Remember the scientific method? You know: You ask a question, formulate a theory, test it out and, if you are very lucky, the conclusion agrees with the theory and you've proved your point.
Fourth- and fifth-graders at Eldersburg Elementary got firsthand experience using this procedure, and, with originality and finesse, the help of teachers and a custodian, created a Science Expo in the school gymnasium last Thursday. It was a learning experience for all who viewed it. It was fun, too.
The children rigorously tested -- with questions, hypotheses, listed materials, explanation of procedures, tabulated results, conclusions and follow-up questions -- just about anything they could think of, except anything using animals.
Did you ever wonder about: Which spaghetti sauce is really the thickest? Which battery really does outlast the others? Is acid rain a myth? Are boys faster than girls? Do birds like the bird feed we put out? Will tar help a driveway, or do we need it? How strong is static electricity? And, do plants really like music?
The children tested those questions and the conclusions were sometimes surprising.
Katie Gardner proved Prego spaghetti sauce was the thickest tested. Energizer batteries outlasted the competition in Anne Foreman's tests.
Katie Bradford tested water for acidity or alkalinity, and found that Piney Run reservoir is definitely acidic.
Chrissy Murphy and Sandy Lagana tabulated the results of boys' and girls' times in the 220-meter race; boys were faster than girls, averaging 42 seconds to the girls' 45.
Kelsey Lampert and Micah Carpenter showed that tar-coated asphalt retards potholes, and Jacob Burkhart's homemade bird feeders showed that different types of birds go for different types of seed.
Erin Koontz tested the static electricity generated by a balloon and found that it will indeed lift many light objects.
Bounty paper towels were the clear winners in Kevin Schreiner's strength test.
"I built a frame, wet the paper towels and counted how many pennies each brand would hold," Kevin said, "Bounty held 368 pennies, a lot more than the others. If I do a follow-up, I'll test generic and store brands -- I think the results will be a whole lot different."
Other experiments were not made to test the validity of advertising claims.
"I wanted to find out if I could make dyes from natural materials," said Jeremy Yaeger. "I took a can of beets, drained the juice and soaked a handkerchief in the juice. It was like dyeing an Easter egg. I also boiled onions, and we had coffee. Those worked, too."
"We played music for marigolds," said Kirsten Anderson, "I played country music, from one to six hours a day. Only one of [my marigolds] died, and one is blooming."
Kirsten's friend, Chasiti Foust, played heavy metal music for her marigolds. "Two of mine died," she said.
As always at science fairs, electricity was a great fascination. Homemade switches, batteries, flashlights, bell ringers and electrified mazes drew eyes. Homemade crystals were popular, too.
Parents viewed the results of the children's efforts. Younger children, who toured the exhibits came away with big plans for their own exhibits when the time comes.
"The children worked really hard on this," said Jean Hetherington, a fourth-grade teacher. "Our gym teachers [Sandra Kennedy and Derek Hess] kindly let us borrow the gym. Of course, it rained!
"We also had a lot of help from our custodian, Donnie Boone. He set up the room for us. Whenever you need something done, he always goes the extra mile."
What was that huge bird that flew right in front of the car? Maybe it was a wild turkey.
Frank Ryan, a ranger at Morgan Run State Park, will visit Piney Run Nature Center at 7:30 p.m. May 27 to fill you in on the details of these avians, which are making a comeback from their endangered species status and have been sighted regularly around the county.
"I saw one cross Route 97," said naturalist Elaine Sweitzer. "They're beautiful birds."
During the free program, Mr. Ryan will imitate wild turkey calls, show slides and discuss the birds' distinguishing features, habitat and how to attract them. Call 795-6043 to register.
If you'd rather attract butterflies than wild turkeys to your yard, join naturalist Deanna Hoffman on Saturday, at 9 a.m. to help plant lance leaved coreopsis, milkweed, black-eyed Susans and other beautiful and little-known species in the new wildflower meadow in the park.
"I'll talk about the value of wildflowers, and how they attract butterflies and other wildlife," Ms. Hoffman said. "Wildflowers are part of our wildlife heritage and part of the natural food chain. This will help to establish our wildlife meadow, which will be enjoyed by people as well as butterflies."
You can learn about planting wildflowers in your own yard while you help the park establish a virtually maintenance-free habitat for those lovely butterflies.
Call Ms. Hoffman at 795-6043 to register. The program is free.