In the statewide science assessments over the past three years, Monroe County has improved from 12th place to 4th in the state, according to Monroe County’s School District’s Science Coordinator Melissa Alsobrook. “That is really due to the emphasis of project based learning in the classroom,” she said. “The teachers are really embracing the use of the labs in the classroom.”

The STEM fair gives students an opportunity to really showcase what they are doing in the classroom. Started in 2012-2013 school year, the past three years, students have received special awards in their divisions. “The middle schools have really embraced this and they always place really well,” said Alsobrooks.

The regional fair was held Jan. 27 with 104 projects submitted. There were 57 elementary, 36 middle school and 11 high school projects submitted.

The main goal going forward is to have more of the work done in the classroom with the assistance of a science teacher rather than at home. “We all know when they go home, mom and dad are up to midnight helping them with these,” said school board member Rob Martin.

“I am really glad to hear that this will move more toward the classroom,” said school board Vice Chair Mindy Conn, who has spent countless hours with her children at home working on these projects. “There used to be little to no opportunity for them to work on it in the classroom and at least in the middle school level, it is graded as a big portion of the science grade.”

“I was super impressed with the projects I saw while judging the science fair. The research in the projects was really impressive.” – Bobby Highsmith, Chair of Monroe County School Board

State Qualifying students include:

Six individual slots and two team slots are awarded in Monroe County students. The regional fair includes all Monroe County public and charter schools. These students will move on to the state fair held in Orlando in March.

Senior Division:

Zane Absten – Coral Shores – Bacteria on the Beach

Nicole Lera – Marathon High School – Head Games

Kristen Haughey – Key West High School – Hurricane Shower

Team: Stephen Franks and Micheal Panse – Coral Shores High School – Is the Tide on your Side?

Junior Division:

JP Unger – Treasure Village – Amazing Algae

Sophia Borders – Treasure Village —Aro vs. Geo

Olivia Sargent – Treasure Village – Eroding Keys

Team: Marquisha Abraham, Rain Banks, and Bethann Hewlett — Marathon Middle School – 50 Days of Tomatoes

KEY WEST

Because hurricanes happen

and so does sand at the beach

Kirsten Haughey wins first place in the engineering category in the district STEM fair and will be showing her hurricane shower in Orlando later this month. CONTRIBUTED

Last spring, 15-year-old Kirsten Haughey spent a little time at the beach in Costa Rica. “Everything is so spread out there and most of the cars were equipped with metal contraptions on their cars they used to wash off before driving home,” she said.

Then Hurricane Irma happened. Tap water was controlled and pressure was low.

The sophomore is studying AP Biology at Key West High School and has always found that science and math are her strong suits. This year, while learning about pathogens on bodies, her project idea came to her: a hurricane shower. “The hands and body are covered in the pathogens, and in the event of a hurricane they can be multiplied,” she said. “And, without a shower to wash off the pathogens, health problems can happen.”

The shower is made from PVC, unlike the metal ones she saw made in Coasta Rica. “This would help with costs,” she said. “The shower was less than $100 to make and is very portable.”

Haughey had hers strapped to the top of her mom’s car with a garden hose attached. The top of the shower screws off easily to add bottled water, or tap water if available. She originally tested the pressure using just gravity, but then found that with either a bicycle pump or CO2 cartridge the pressure was enough to actually get clean. “With the pressure, it flows at a steady rate,” she said.

Haughey showed the project at the district STEM fair, which took first place in the engineering category. She and the other winners will be traveling to the state STEM fair in Orlando later this month.

“For their school STEM fair, Key West High School centered on the theme of hurricane preparedness and recovery this year. Kirsten’s project, Hurricane Shower, was one of the more innovative and unique designs to be presented from KWHS. As a sophomore, going to the State Science and Engineering Fair will be a great experience that I hope will inspire her to continue pursuing an interest in science and participating in Monroe County STEM Fair in the future.” —Melissa Alsobrooks, Monroe County Science Coordinator

“Head Games”

Marathon student tests football helmets’ protection

helmet test
MHS senior Nicole Lera said the helmet on the left, featuring a “bonnet” cushioning system inside, responded best in her science experiment. She has advanced to the statewide competition in March. SARA MATTHIS/Keys Weekly

Senior Nicole Lera will represent Marathon High School when she attends the statewide science fair March 27-30 in Lakeland, Florida. Her experiment tested the protection from concussion offered by different brands of football helmet.

Lera was a manager for the high school football team this year, and she’s no stranger to the field herself.

“I’ve goalied in soccer and had a concussion before,” she said, adding that concussions can cause irreversible brain damage, including the very serious CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), a degenerative brain disease found in athletes, military veterans and others with a history of repetitive brain trauma.

She tested the helmets using the school’s high-end force sensors, which the physics class uses to measure collisions. But she also included some old-school technology — tiny metal disks covered in a sleeve of carbon paper. Larger impacts caused the carbon paper to “print” the image on the disk beneath it.

AP physics and honors physical science teacher Chris Hayes said he was pleased with her work, which earned her a xx at the district competition on Jan. 27.

“She went above and beyond,” he said.

Lera used a 10-pound medicine ball on the three helmets. She dropped it on the helmet from a standing height, then used moderate force, and then gave it everything she had, slamming it into the helmet.

While the Zenith helmet performed best, the results were still disquieting, she said.

“There was a significant amount of force transferring from the outside of the helmet to the inside in all cases,” she said.

The best helmet is the newest. Called a “bonnet,” it features a separate padding structure inside the helmet rather than cushions glued in place. The extra space, plus the structure of inverted cups inside the padding, performed the best.

She used a Labquest calculator to measure the force in G’s.

Some football teams are beginning to incorporate helmet sensors for regular play, although it is far from an industry standard.

Award-winning thinking

Five Upper Keys students head to State Science Fair

Representing Monroe County in the Upper Division competition at the State Science Fair are Coral Shores High School students Zane Absten, Mike Panse and Stephen Franks. The team of Panse and Franks won first place in the environmental sciences category for their project on tides. Absten won first for his presentation on bacteria at the beach.

“I started this project because I saw my little brother playing in the sand on a beach with a ‘No swimming’ sign,” said Absten. “I thought it might not have been safe for him to play in the sand if there was too much bacteria in the water to swim. Currently the beaches are closed based on the bacteria level in the water column at the beach, so I tested the interstitial water (the water mixed with sand) and the water at the beach from Key West to Jensen Beach. 271 Miles.”

Absten tested several locations, and was on the lookout for the enterococcus species of bacteria, which he said act as “indicator” bacteria for other possible harmful species of bacteria like E. Coli.

Treasure Village Montessori School students Olivia Sargent, Sophia Borders, and JP Unger will represent Monroe County in the junior division of the fair and present their findings. The junior division is made up of 6 – 8th grade students.

Sargent captured first place at Treasure Village’s competition, before a three-judge panel also awarded her with first in the chemistry category at districts.

“I wanted to test to see if the acidity levels of the ocean affect the erosion on limestone,” said Sargent.

An avid diver, Sargent said she was inspired by her surroundings to learn more about how the ocean and land interact. She hypothesized that the acidity of ocean water would affect erosion rates of limestone; though not visibly apparent, it would be measurable, she believed.

Sargent chose 12 limestone rocks to simulate the Florida Keys and distilled water with lemon juice to simulate ocean water. She recorded the initial mass of all 12 rocks with a specialized digital scale before beginning her experimentation phase.

“To test my hypothesis, I placed all 12 rocks into separate 50-millimeter beakers,” said Sargent. “Then I distributed water into the 12 beakers and divided them into separated groups. The first group, Group A, was the control group, and was given no drops of lemon juice. Group B had one drop of lemon juice, Group C had two drops, and Group D had 6 drops.”

She left all twelve beakers in an undistributed area for a week, and then measured the mass again. While changes in mass were small, they were indeed measureable.

Sargent found that the acidity does affect the erosion rate, and postulated that the more acidic the ocean was, the more the limestone would erode.

“I’m very proud of Olivia; she worked very hard,” said her mother, Amy Sargent. “She is very interested in marine biology, and has been SCUBA certified since 10, so she takes extra interest in anything related to the ocean. Living here in the Keys has given her the opportunity to have her favorite hobby right in her back yard, so not only is it fun for her, it’s her interest in school. She put her heart and soul into it because it fascinated her.”

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