Teacher believes science fair can change students’ lives

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Zia Elementary School student Logann Ewers works on her display board Tuesday, getting set for the regional science fair Saturday at Eastern New Mexico University.

By Liliana Castillo: CNJ staff writer

Zia Elementary School science teacher Suzanne Tipton knows how science can change a student’s life.

She saw it in her son.

She said her son was an average sixth-grader. He wasn’t good at sports or with school studies for that matter.

But when he won first place at the regional science fair, everything changed.

“When they hung that medal around my son’s neck, I saw a change in Andrew. He stood up straighter. He smiled. He had confidence,” Tipton said, tears welling in her eyes. “I know when I say the science fair can change a students life. They can find success.”

That’s why she has encouraged and coached throughout the science fair process.

Seven of her students receiving first places at the Zia science fair are on their way to the Southeast New Mexico Regional Science Fair Saturday at Eastern New Mexico University.

A student from Yucca, one from Arts Academy at Bella Vista, one from Parkview Elementary and 10 from Marshall will also participate in the fair.

Tipton said science fairs equip students with the ability to question things around them, do research, think critically and be able to express the process.

“The kids think of their own ideas,” Tipton said. “From my experience, winning ideas tend to be original.”

Tipton said the process also helps students follow the plan and take criticism.

“Employers want employees who can think,” she said. “They learn to make real things we use.”

The students have been working on their projects at home and school since early November. Students who receive first or second in their category move on to state, depending on how many entries there are in a category, according to science fair coordinator Kasey White.

White said 133 entries in 14 categories will be judged at the fair. She said the most popular categories are physics and astronomy, chemistry, engineering and animal science.

Yucca Middle School eighth-grader Lessie Smithhisler was driving home from Lubbock, Texas and wondered “Why don’t they put up the old style windmills anymore?” From that, she decided to test which type of windmill or wind turbine outputs more energy.

“I tested five windmills,” she said. “And the new style ones put out more energy.”

Smithhisler won second place in the junior division last year in the mathematical sciences division at the State Science Fair in Socorro.

“It’s fun. You get to see friends you haven’t seen in forever and meet new ones and see all the new projects,” Smithhisler said.