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Young minds seek solutions at Ocracoke School STEAM Fair

Third-grader Uriah Johnson captured first place among third- to fifth-grade and best in show in the Science division for his experiment about propane gas in the Ocracoke School STEAM Fair. Photo: C. Leinbach

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By Rita Thiel

As the lights went down on another Ocracoke School S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) Fair in the school gym on Thursday (April 4), one couldn’t help but wonder at the level of creativity and ingenuity exhibited in the projects of the elementary and middle grades students. 

Jeanie Owens, fifth grade teacher and coordinator of this year’s fair, said there were 50 entries from grades three through eight, exceeding the number of previous years’ exhibits.   There were no math entries as there had been in previous years.

Lee Brimmage Jr., N.C. Cooperative Extension, 4-H Youth Development director, along with Natalie Wayne, 4-H director for Hyde and Tyrrell counties, came to Ocracoke to help facilitate and judge the fair.

Fourth-grader Essie O’Neal, who won best in show in the Art category, explains her project to Lee Brimmage and Natalie Wayne. Photo by Richard Taylor

“I am always impressed that the students take the next step with their ideas,” he said of this year’s projects.  “It is a pleasure to come to Ocracoke and see the work the students have done. Thank you for doing such a great job.”  

Wayne pointed out that some student projects incorporated the extra-curricular activities in which the students participate, such as baseball (“Which is the better bat: wood or metal?” by Parker Gaskill) and community concerns, such as the importance of composting and recycling (“Go Green,” by Zoe Modlin).

Fifth-grader Griffin Wells’s “Stop Plastic Pollution” included a “trash bot,” a robot made out of trash he had found around  Quawk’s Point Creek, which represented the plastic pollution inundating the oceans.

One fact the project highlighted was that plastic grocery bags floating in the ocean can appear like jellyfish to sea creatures, who will ingest them. His display also pointed out that new technology making plastic bags out of hemp allows them to decompose in three months instead of the 1,000 years for plastic made from petroleum to break down.

“We use hemp bags at the restaurant,” chimed in his dad, Jason, co-owner of Jason’s Restaurant.

Griffin’s project won second place in the Art category.

These observations of students’ relevant topics impressed Wayne, who sees the children continue to grow and expand each year and connect what they learn with their lives.

Owens said in the past, technology was largely missing from the projects.

“Now, incorporating technology is seamless,” she said.

Technology figured in many of the award winners, such as Sawyer DeVan’s project, which won first place and best-in-show in the third to fifth grade technology category.  And Essie O’Neal’s digital art project won first place and best in show in the third to fifth grade art category.

But ninth graders Julian Bennink and Edwin Perez purposely omitted technology from their hydraulics project, which ingeniously used air pressure from plastic syringes to propel a movable arm.

“We just wanted to show how you don’t need stainless steel or electricity to make something move,” Julian said as the two continued to demonstrate their engineering project after the awards. Their project won second place in the sixth to 12th grade category.

Fifth-graders Heidy Garcia Lora and Ammy Ortiz explain their first-place engineering catapult made out of plastic spoons. Photo: C. Leinbach

Similarly, Heidy Garcia Lora and Ammy Ortiz-Flores’s engineering project used plastic spoons to make catapults. Their project won first place in the third to fifth grade engineering category. Jonah Daniels won second place.

The high school grades weren’t as well represented as the middle school and Wayne would like to see more of the older students participate.

“I know they are so busy in high school, but I would like to draw them into the fair,” she said, suggesting perhaps combining projects with solutions to community problems.   “Hopefully, the younger students who are now participating will get more and more excited each year and continue to develop projects as they become the high school students.”

Other winners were as follows:
Science: Third to fifth grade—Uriah Johnson (third grade), first place and best in show; Mau Guerrero, second place
Sixth to eighth grade—Christian Stevens, first place; Iris McClain, second place
Ninth to 12th grade—Dylan Esham, first place; Mackenzie Novak and Becky Boos, second place.
Technology: Sixth to eighth grade—Elsie Kattenburg and Mariah Temple, first place
In Engineering, Uriel Guerrero won first place and best in show in sixth to 12th grades.

Ninth-graders Edwin Perez and Julian Bennink demonstrate their hydraulics project that won second place in the sixth- to 12th-grade engineering category. Photo: C. Leinbach

Tommy Bullard, third grade, created a snowy owl with balloons, papier mache and paper. Photo: C. Leinbach

Griffin Wells with his ‘trash bot’ that won second place in the Art category. Photo: C. Leinbach

Christian Stevens’ project won first place in the sixth- to eighth-grade category. Photo by Richard Taylor