By Spc. Leon CookJanuary 24, 2014
LAKEWOOD, Wash. - The basis of the scientific method is simply asking the question, "If I do this, what will happen?" Six years ago, when the science department of a local middle school asked themselves, "What will happen if we invite soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord to judge our science fair?" they began an experiment that has continued ever since.
Soldiers with the 555th Engineer Brigade spent the day judging science fair entries at Mann Middle School in Lakewood, Wash. Jan. 15.
Once a scientist has asked a question, he or she forms a hypothesis which is their best guess about how their experiment will turn out.
"My hypothesis was that if I brought in soldiers, the kids would feel nervous talking to them, but they'd become comfortable over time and enjoy themselves," said Rhonda Bostick, sixth-grade math and science teacher and head of Mann's science department.
To test her hypothesis, Bostick has been inviting soldiers to help judge the school's science fair for the past six years. This year, more than 40 soldiers volunteered to evaluate the projects performed by hundreds of sixth, seventh and eighth-grade students.
The students worked hard the last two months applying the scientific method by asking questions, forming hypotheses, testing and retesting their hypotheses, and analyzing their results. Finally, it was time for them to show what they learned.
The volunteer judges came to the school shortly before class received a quick course in how to judge the hundreds of entries. Judges learned how to evaluate projects based on how closely they followed the scientific method, oral presentation, and the accuracy of the data in their scientific journal.
"The students should know their stuff, but they'll be nervous," Bostick said to the soldiers. "Make sure to ask questions and pull their knowledge out."
Once the bell rang, the judges squeezed into crowded classrooms packed with students and presentation boards. Students nervously explained to the towering and imposing judges how they performed their projects, whether their hypothesis was confirmed, and any other thoughts they had about their projects.
"I was a little nervous at first," said Ella Haggard, an 8th grader at the school, "but the soldiers seemed really nice. After the first judge, I was more confident."
"All the students were a little nervous," said Spc. Montana Kemmish, a petroleum supply specialist with Forward Support Company, 14th Engineer Battalion. "But after you joked with them a little bit, they opened up and started to have fun. You could really tell they got a lot out of their projects, and I was very impressed."
The soldiers were also uneasy as they evaluated their first projects, but both soldiers and students got over their nerves as time went by.
"It really means a lot to the kids that soldiers showed up to support them. 47 percent of our students have a mother, a father, or some relative in the military. You look just like the people they look up to," said Rob Banner, the school principal.
"I like how the soldiers are helping and showing their appreciation for the community," Haggard said. "They had a lot of good advice and I'm excited to work even harder next year."
After the science fair was over, Bostick analyzed the results of her sixth test run in the "Soldiers as science fair judges" experiment.
"This year went really well," Bostick said. "Everything went smoothly and the kids enjoyed it. I even heard some soldiers in the hallway talking about things they learned. If the kids learned something and the soldiers learned something, I think we were successful."
In science, no hypothesis is ever confirmed; they are constantly tested until they are disproved or improved. So far, the hypothesis Mann Middle School put forth six years ago has been correct in every test. It will be put to the test once more next year and hopefully for years to come.