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Finding Answers

Coal City fifth graders present science projects

Cody Rogers demonstrates the resistance of a type of body armor material to being pierced by a hammered nail while, John Hnetkovsky, his partner on the project “Which Armor is Best?” observes.
Cody Rogers demonstrates the resistance of a type of body armor material to being pierced by a hammered nail while, John Hnetkovsky, his partner on the project “Which Armor is Best?” observes.

COAL CITY — Do you know what kind of material makes the best body armor?

How about what kind of toothpaste is best for fighting stains?

Or this: What kind of cup keeps your drink warm the longest?

Give up?

At the fifth annual Fifth Grade Science Fair at Coal City Intermediate School Thursday, some bright fifth-grade scientists provided answers to those questions and more.

“The plastic makes the best armor,” said Cody Rogers, a Coal City fifth grader.

As if to prove it, his project partner, John Hnetkovsky, smashed the thick, yet flexible, plastic before him with a hammer.

“This can get hit by a nail, too,” Hnetkovsky said.

He whacked the nail with the hammer.

The armor sustained a scratch, maybe, but sure enough, it held up.

“This is zombie-apocalypse material right here,” Hnetkovsky said.

They reached their conclusion — that the plastic armor is better than, say, the various metals they tried out — as all the roughly 70 project teams did: by engaging in the scientific process.

They began with a question. From there, they formed a hypothesis, tested it and derived conclusions based on the data.

According to Jenn Rink, a fifth-grade science teacher at Coal City Intermediate School, the students are engaged in the projects because they are “self-running.”

“They designed the entire thing,” Rink said. “The way they’ve collaborated, it’s been awesome.”

“We were just the guides on the side,” added fellow fifth-grade science teacher Neil Nicholson.

The learning is enhanced, Rink and Nicholson said, because the projects are applicable to everyday life and things the students are interested in.

Like, say, the project fifth graders Dylan Hogan and Colin Meece presented on whether different types of chocolate bars had different melting points.

They learned a lot, they said, and also got to eat the candy when the experimenting was done. Win-win.

“I love science,” Hogan said. “It’s really cool getting to do experiments.”

According to Principal Tracy Carlson, the scientific method is a big part of the curriculum. The projects reinforce that.

“It hits a huge amount of the 21st Century learning skills,” Carlson said. “It’s exciting for the students.”

And it’s not only a learning experience for the students. She said many of the projects made her reconsider some of the household products she buys.

Take the project undertaken by Gabby Cinotto, Madison Pampuch and Abbie Cullick, for instance.

They set out to find which toothpaste fought stains the best.

To that end, they let tiles soak in cake and frosting and cola. Then, they scrubbed away with several different toothpastes.

The winner?


The scientists weren’t surprised. Each uses Crest at home, they said.

Lana Johnson, Rose Feeney and Paxton Thomas, thought, were surprised by the findings of their study.

They filled five different cups with 200 milliliters of hot water to see which kept a drink warm the longest.
The three believed a metal container would have come out on top.

Instead, it was styrofoam.

It’s these types of discoveries that Rink said keep kids engaged in science.

“They did an incredible job,” she said. “The kids are always teaching you something.”

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