From Bigfoot to Pluto, fair expands frontiers
By Noel Lyn Smith
CHURCH ROCK, N.M., March 3, 2012
(Times photo - Paul Natonabah)
The cold wind and snow did not dampen students' enthusiasm as they entered the convention center at Red Rock Park for the Navajo Nation Science Fair.
Bryan Fuller, a sixth-grader at Shonto Preparatory School, offered a project posing the question "How many months can the planets orbit one time around the sun?"
Fuller said his project helped him learn more about the solar system - he wants to be an astronomer - and about his favorite planet, Mars.
"Mars is almost like Earth," he said. "There's a mountain that's almost twice as big as Mount Everest."
Fuller stood with his partner, Shonto third-grader Cyrus Martin, who explained their project. Planets were made from plastic foam colored with spray paint, and a scattering of dirt glued onto the presentation board depicted the asteroid belt that divides the inner and outer planets.
The display was cool but it looked like the boys, like many professional astronomers, had some trouble with Pluto. Instead of matching the other planets, Pluto was made from masking tape wrapped into a ball and colored blue with a maker.
"We lost the other piece on the bus, it popped off," Martin said.
Little Pluto, with its wonky orbit and extreme distance from the sun, was demoted from planethood in 2006 amid furious debate among astronomers over its origins. There was even talk of calling it a "planetoid," and assertions that it was really not related to the rest of the solar system at all, but was an asteroid that had become trapped at the outer reaches of the sun's gravitational field.
When asked why Pluto was included as a planet since all but a few diehards now categorize it as a "dwarf planet," Fuller said it was because some books and websites still list it as a planet.
"I told you Pluto isn't a planet anymore," Martin said, echoing the debate among the grown-ups.
Near their display was a project about the earth's layers by Jasmine Williams, a fourth-grader at Shonto who crafted a model of the home planet from cardboard, newspaper, glue, staples, spray paint, toothpaste, poster paint, aluminum foil, a magnet and a nickel.
"I decided to do that because that's the middle of the earth and Navajos say they came from here," Williams said.
She labeled each layer - inner core, outer core, mantle, upper mantle and crust - on her presentation board.
Through her research, Williams learned that the Earth's core is similar to the core of an egg and an apple.
"I like researching, it was fun," she said.
Some projects in the biology category posed questions like, "What is a penguin?" and "Is it possible for a 5-year-old to race a cheetah?"
Kamille Wilson, a fourth-grader at Window Rock Elementary School, studied the different types of beetles found on the Navajo Nation.
"I did this project because I like two-spotted lady beetles," Wilson said.
Among the projects in the animal science division was "Bigfoot" by Rope James, a second-grader at Ganado Primary School.
James said he decided on Bigfoot after watching the 1976 movie, "The Legend of Bigfoot."
Sitting on the table were four books about Bigfoot, a mold casting of a large footprint, and a blue binder labeled, "Rope's Log," which contained his research.
That research helped James learn that Bigfoot is taller than a human, the Alaskan Brown Bear and the mountain gorilla, and has an unpleasant odor.
Asked if Bigfoot is real and if he would like to see the creature one day, James nodded his head "yes," adding, "But I would run off."
Science fair judge Nels Roanhorse was making his way through the environmental science table when he stopped to evaluate "Earthquakes" by Kayden Williams and Danielle Tsosie, both third-graders at Tséhootsooí Elementary School.
The rules require each project to be evaluated by three judges.
Projects were evaluated by their use of scientific investigation, thoroughness, skill, creativeness, originality, clarity and student interview.
Roanhorse reviewed the girls' presentation board then asked Williams why the pair selected earthquakes. Williams said she was interested in learning about earthquakes.
Then Roanhorse asked Tsosie about the aluminum pan filled with dirt, blocks and twigs that sat on the table.
"When you make this thing move, what happens?" Roanhorse said.
Tsosie explained that lightly tapping the pan causes little movement but when the pan is forcibly shaken, the blocks and twigs move out of place.
In the main room, judge Latha Kannan was examining "Germs" by Ajay Benally, a fourth-grader at Tséhootsooí Diné Bi Oltá.
As part of Benally's experiment, he tested money, books, pens and soda cans for bacteria levels.
Benally's hypothesis stated, "I think money has the most germs," which turned out to be true.
He told Kannan that a person could prevent germs from spreading by washing their hands with soap and covering their mouth when coughing or sneezing.
"It's a nice project," Kannan said.
After Kannan left, Benally said he was nervous about the evaluation but that feeling went away when he started talking. Practicing with his mom also helped, he said.
This year's fair was held in a new location, which allowed more space, but the level of student participation was the same as last year, said fair coordinator Johanson Phillips.
"The students like the hands-on and they work for it," Phillips said. "They see the process and want to see if it works or does not, they want to see that. That's what learning is all about."
Grades K-6 exhibited on Tuesday and on Wednesday grades 7-12 exhibited their projects.
The annual event is presented by the Office of Diné Science, Math and Technology, part of the Department of Diné Education.