Riverside Elementary School Students present end-of-year experiments

Since February, the students at Riverside Elementary School in grades two through five worked diligently to prove a certain hypothesis for their science classes. Riverside School science specialist and teacher Mark Eastburn –  known for hosting the famous lizard Green Fruit Loop and saving the turtles,  and who will soon be bringing carnivorous plants such as Venus Fly Traps in the schoolyard – created a different lab experiment with each class.

On Tuesday, two students from each class took turns presenting their research results for 20 minutes to all the Riverside School classes, from kindergartners to other fifth graders. Eastburn explained how these projects and presentations stemmed from something first sponsored by the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and hosted at D&R Greenway Land Trust’s headquarters. The research, while stimulating for students, only provided the public speaking experience for two children from each class. In addition, those two students had to take on the load of a two-hour presentation, which can be daunting whether you’re in grade school or graduate school. Eastburn thought it would be beneficial for his science kids to conduct their experiments and all have the opportunity to explain them to their peers, so he changed the venue from D&R to their very own Riverside School library.

“I think that it is essential for students to understand how science works, which requires them to engage in authentic experimentation. They need to see how a scientific investigation can be developed, which hypotheses can be tested, and what conclusions can (and can’t) be drawn,” Eastburn said about having the research projects span over several months.

In total, there were seven experiments for all Eastburn’s classrooms – three for the second grade, two for the third, one for the fourth and one for the fifth.

The fifth-grade experiment was inspired by research being conducted at Princeton High School and Rutgers University. The children investigated three types of floating plants to see which would grow the fastest for the possibility of using duckweed as biofuel. The students also tested for water quality – acidic, neutral and water with high fertilizer concentration – to see which would work best for developing frog eggs. Their research determined the water in Lake Carnegie remains a good environment for raising tadpoles despite the decline in amphibians around the world.

One of the second-grade classes sought to test how much weight boats of different shapes could carry.

“If you see in this photo,” two second-grade girls Katy Vasquez and Zoie Reynolds spoke in unison and pointed to their lab report poster.

Zoie continued, “This one is wide, the bottom’s flat. The walls are big. It held 206 pennies. But this circle one – this one has the worst balance, worse than a square. It sunk after only 18 pennies. It was exciting,” she said happily about conducting her experiment.

After putting boats they designed from aluminum foil, masking tape and index cards in water and loading pennies in one-by-one, the students proved the ones with flat bottoms and rectangular shapes carried the most weight. Eastburn noted this is the basic design for many container ships transporting heavy cargo by sea.

“Science isn’t a mere recitation of interesting facts,” Eastburn said “It is a way of critically looking at the world with a deep desire to understand how things truly work, and I am hoping to instill that mindset in children.”

About Erica Chayes Wida

Erica Chayes Wida is a writer, mom, and complete zealot when it comes to poetry, paella and globe collections. After graduating with a degree in Anthropology from UCLA, Erica moved to Italy where the seasons and old architecture inspired her journey back to the East Coast. Since then, she and her husband have created a nest egg locally and, over time, developed a rather grand love affair with the town of Princeton. Erica is senior editor at The Princeton Sun and enjoys fulfilling her Princeton affections on a daily basis. | View all posts by Erica Chayes Wida