Science Expo Teaches Critical Skills & Showcases Expertise of Blair’s Student Scientists

Posted: May 10, 2017

More than 100 science students of all grade levels will share with the community their expertise on a given topic at the science department’s annual poster expo in Hardwick Hall’s performance gym on May 16.

The Tuesday-evening event, which will include presenters from psychology, honors biology, astronomy, analytical chemistry, biomechanics and marine biology, offers students the opportunity to share with their peers and teachers what they have learned over the course of the year. Because the format mimics a professional scientific conference with presenters waiting by their posters as attendees of different levels of interest and knowledge peruse their work and ask questions, students must spend a good deal of time practicing their oral presentation skills and honing their literacy about their projects.

“Some attendees will know a lot about what they are looking at, while others will know nothing about it, so in that way, the randomness of the audience is a challenge for our presenters and forces them to prepare on various levels,” said science department chair Roy Wilson. “Everyone from the serious science student and the caring advisor to the supportive friend and random faculty member will show up, and not knowing what kind of inquiries they will pose instills in the students a seriousness about how they have to prepare for this event.”

A Glimpse of Long-Term Project Work

Because the posters themselves present just a small slice of the work students have done in their classes as part of larger projects, the poster expo also challenges presenters to repurpose a large amount of content in an extremely concise way. “It can be tricky to translate your material to the poster medium and highlight in great brevity what you think is most essential, whether it be graphs, results or questions that need to be outlined,” Mr. Wilson added.

In the end, science teachers hope the experience gives students a better understanding of how professional scientists share knowledge and that they become stronger communicators and experts on their given topics in the process. Student presenters have also found that the experience of preparing their posters has underscored the importance of choosing a topic that is personally interesting, as well as the value of persistence and trial-and-error in the scientific process.

For psychology students Chesney Boag ’17 and Nia Shaw ’17, a personal interest in memory researcher Elizabeth Loftus has been rewarding and encouraged them to go above and beyond teacher Caroline Wilson’s expectations for the project. “The science expo allowed us to study in-depth a psychologist of our choice,” they said. “We worked with our peers and researched anything and everything we could about her. And we have the opportunity to share our work with the Blair community, which is really cool because everyone gets to see how hard we worked this year.”

“The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that if something fails, don’t be afraid to keep trying,” added honors biology student Garrett Long ’20, whose poster focuses on how much light Wisconsin fast plants need. “I am looking forward to presenting my research and teaching people about the lab we’ve been working on.”

Although Garrett’s classmate Cameron Bentley ’20’s poster focuses on her research on the same topic, her takeaway from the poster preparation experience was slightly different: She learned a lot about the scientific process itself. As she experimented with natural water filtration systems, she discovered just how much of science is trial-and-error. “When we are in the classroom, everything we learn has already been tested and established as fact,” Cameron said. “Experimenting myself is entirely different. Despite the difficulties I have faced throughout my project, the opportunity to experience the scientific process has opened my eyes to the history behind establishing the scientific theories we learn about in class.”

Expanding Horizons & Experimenting Across the Community

Viewing the expo as an opportunity to give visibility to the exciting and engaging work science students are doing across campus on a regular basis, Mr. Wilson likens the poster expo to an art exhibit reception.

“It gives members of our community a glimpse into the vast amount of work and effort that have gone into these projects, and we hope attendees will view these posters and decide they have an interest in doing long-term project work and possibly trying some science electives they might not have otherwise considered,” said Mr. Wilson, who asked science teachers to meet with fine arts department chair Kate Sykes at the outset of the poster project to get her thoughts on aesthetics and organization. “As with everything at Blair, the goal is to expand horizons and encourage students to ask questions, engage in project-based work and learn as part of that process.”

As Blair prepares to expand and renovate Bogle Hall, Mr. Wilson and his colleagues see the science poster expo as a great example of the department experimenting and doing things that align with their vision for the science curriculum further down the line once renovation work is complete.

“As we optimize Bogle Hall for the teaching of science, we want to ensure that we are doing meaningful project work that helps students make the most of the teaching-and-learning process,” he concluded. “So we are experimenting and starting to build some additional opportunities for project work to layer on top of the foundation of the science experience at Blair. As work on Bogle Hall gets underway, we anticipate having a facility to do bigger and better things, and we want to be ready for that when the renovations are done.”

The long-term plans aside, as presenters finish their posters and prepare for the 2017 expo, they are just excited to view the work of other students and share their own. “I am most looking forward to seeing what everyone else has been working on,” said Cameron. “We have all put a lot of time and effort into this project, and I can’t wait to see everyone’s hard work come to fruition.”

Last Updated: May 8, 2017