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Cooper students close out year with science

Students react with surprise as a volcano held by Abby Johnson, second from left, front, explodes into the air during Cooper Elementary School’s fourth grade science fair. Maria Lockwood

Fourth grade students at Cooper Elementary School dug deep and quested far to answer some puzzling scientific questions this spring.

Does smell affect taste? How does chlorophyll make plants green? What is the distance between the biggest and smallest planets in the solar system?

Their answers, and the research that accompanied them, were on display Friday at the school's annual science fair. The work covered everything from simple machines and heat conduction, to tadpoles and a volcano.

Zac Olson's K'nex roller coaster attracted plenty of attention, and compliments, from classmates. Cars zipped around the track, demonstrating the difference between potential and kinetic motion as well as the property of relative motion.

Nearby, Bella Lane conducted an experiment on the connection between taste and smell. Visitors and students were asked to eat a strawberry or piece of chocolate while sniffing a cotton swab doused in essential oil — lemon, orange, lavender or peppermint.

"It tastes like lemon," said fourth grader Cierra Coyle of her chocolate square, which was paired with lemon essential oil. The majority of people who tried the experiment tasted the oil's flavor, not the food's.

Next door, two solar systems rested. Andrea Hampton built hers to find the distance between the smallest planet, Mercury, and the largest, Jupiter. She would have preferred to map the route between Jupiter and Pluto, but the latter lost its planet status in 2006 after being demoted to a dwarf planet.

"I was kind of made because Pluto was my favorite," said Andrea.

Her new top choice is the red planet.

"I would really love to go to Mars," she said. The fourth grader asked her dad to download the oursolarsystem app so she could continue to learn about the planets.

Julia Lackner spent weeks building her solar system model.

"Mr. Johnson wanted us to do something we hadn't learned yet," she said.

Julia compared the differences between three planets, Mercury, Jupiter and Earth. On Mercury, it's so hot you can melt lead. On Jupiter, if you could even stand on the gas giant, gravity would crush you. Earth is just right for sustaining life.

Tony Amos charted the changes in phone technology over the years, from rotary phones to today's cellular versions.

"They were not as cool as, like, the regular ones," he said of the older models.

Christina Moselle incorporated a quiz, a game and prize drawings into her rocks and minerals display.

"Rocks are surprising," she said, holding up a geode that had been split open to showcase the shining crystals within.

With the help of her grandmother, Christina collected rocks from as far away as Bayfield and Minneapolis. She researched birthstones and tapped apart geodes.

Nearby, tadpoles swam in Alexis Rugg's display. She chose to concentrate on tadpoles and their ecosystem, learning some surprising facts along the way.

"Some tadpoles eat plants; some tadpoles eat other tadpoles," Alexis said.

There are 2,000 different types of tadpoles, but all of them go through the same stages — egg, tadpole, metamorph and frog.

"Usually they are in ponds and rivers, but I got these from the second grade teacher," Alexis said of her display models. She planned to release them in Billings Park after the science fair.

Julia's grandmother, Emily Larson, has been to the science fair four years in a row.

"I think it's wonderful," she said. "The kids learn a lot of different things."

The students said they enjoyed the project.

"I really like it because it helps kids learn more about science," Alexis said. "It's a lot of fun."

It also gave them a chance to unearth answers on their own.

"Because sometimes there are different perspectives of things," Alexis said. "Sometimes people might say this but others might think that's wrong."

By doing more research, she said, you can find out more about the subject and which perspectives are more common.

"We need to be able to learn how to stand on our own feet," Christina said.

Projects like the Cooper science fair closed out the year for students in the Superior School District. Summer vacation officially kicks off today for elementary students, tomorrow for students at Superior Middle and High schools.

Summer school is set to begin next week. The district will also serve up free meals for children 18 and under at schools and community sites starting June 12. A full listing of meal sites and times is available on the district's homepage, www.superior.k12.wi.us.

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