Don’t lose that beetle! Fourth-graders prep for annual science fair

Breton Downs fourth-grader Lauren Whynott prepares to test how oil from cars and boats impacts bird feathers

As Jane Baker arranged different colored scraps of paper inside three chambers of an experiment tray, her subject, a nearly two-inch bess beetle,  scaled the wall of the control chamber and made a beeline for freedom.

Without missing a beat, Jane pinched the passalidae near the second pair of its six legs and calmly placed it back in the chamber. Then she got back to studying her hypothesis: whether bess beetles are attracted to certain colors.

Jane Baker grabs a bess beetle that tried to make a run for it

A scientist has to be unflappable, after all.

“I just can do it because my brother puts beetles everywhere in my room,” she said. “Not real ones, but.”

Jane returned to her observation of the bug. “So far I think he likes the tan color the best. Maybe because they live in rotten logs.”

Jane is one of some 60 fourth-graders in Cheryl Radecki’s Breton Downs Elementary science classes who will share their projects with parents and others on Thursday, June 7 at the school’s annual science fair.

Radecki has organized a science fair every year for the 13 years she has taught at the school. This is the fifth year students prepared during the school day rather than at home.

Over the approximately three-week process, students were charged to select a topic, make a hypothesis they want to test, perform tests and track the results. This year they got help on testing day from Radecki’s husband and their two sons, and family friend Kara Plagamaars — all of whom are scientists.

Dylan Buck taps out heartbeats of a daphnia (water flea) that’s been hopped up on caffeine

To prepare more visual aids for the fair, students analyzed the data and made charts and graphs to illustrate their findings.

Radecki said the projects have real-world implications, even right at school. Case in point: Fourth-grader Zach Caswell’s bacteria samples taken from swabs of areas around the building produced results that will help custodians target particular problem areas.

During testing day, Radecki marveled at what she called the “borderline chaos” in her classroom.

“Just to see how excited they are, and this isn’t just ‘having fun in fourth-grade science,’” she said. “They really know their research. They’re very engaged. What’s not to love?”

Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio

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