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Blowing Rock 6th Grade Students Attend The North Carolina Student Academy of Sciences Competition, and the North Carolina Science and Engineering Fair

Left to right:  Darcy Kwong, John Kirk, Allyson McFalls, Ellis Lile, Riley Morgan. Photo by Allyson McFalls.

With new technological and scientific advancements seemingly appearing every moment, STEM competitions are taking the educational front seat.

Leaning into the ever-present spirit of scientific exploration, a small group of Blowing Rock School 6th grade students attended two competitions the weekend of March 24-25: The North Carolina Student Academy of Sciences Competition, and the North Carolina Science and Engineering Fair.

The North Carolina Student Academy of Sciences Competition is a presentation based competition similar to a thesis defense, where students have 10 minutes to present to a panel of judges and then 5 minutes to answer questions from the judges. This competition was held at the Durham Campus of the North Carolina School of Science and Math on the evening of March 24. In order to qualify, students had to place at the regional level. One student, Riley Morgan competed in the NCSASC, and relayed her experience.

“My experience doing the science fair was incredible,” she said. “The whole thing was fantastic but my favorite part would have to be the competitions. It was so cool to see other people’s projects and it was a great learning experience. I loved doing it and I want to do it again next year!”

Riley Morgan standing in front of her project presentation for the NCSASC. Photo by Allyson McFalls.

The second competition, The North Carolina Science and Engineering Fair, was held at North Carolina State University on Saturday, March 25. Students competed against other middle grades students from across the state, after placing at the regional competition in their given category. Students prepared a trifold brochure to showcase their research projects and findings, and then had interviews with the judges. The presenters also had the opportunity to explore some of the NCSU campus clubs and state organizations that held booths at the student union at NCSU. 6th graders Darcy Kwong, John Kirk, Ellis Lile, and Riley Morgan participated in the NCSEF, having placed in their categories at regional competition.

6th Grade Science and Language Arts teacher Allyson McFalls was proud to present her students to this years state competitions.

“I firmly believe in the value of independent student research projects,” she stated. “There is real power in providing students the opportunity to explore a question that they’ve developed, and in coaching them through the scientific research process, which requires real commitment on the part of the teacher.”

6th grader Darcy Kwong thoroughly enjoyed exploring the presentation booths, commenting, “I honestly thought the science fair was one of the best experiences I have ever been a part of. You get to see all of the amazing learning opportunities and all the cool projects people make. From EMPs to studying HIV and Malaria, the science fair has it all.”

John Kirk and and Darcy Kwong collaborated as partners on their project for the NCSEF. Photo by Allyson McFalls.

McFallis enjoyed introducing her class to the engaging environment of the student science expo, stating “Students are far more engaged in the learning when it is meaningful and relevant to them. I also believe in providing an opportunity for students to share their research in competition environments, such as science fair. Students gain so many life skills through this process, such as presentation skills, organizational skills, and time management.”

 And McFalls’ class participation in the competition this year is a milestone.

“This is usually the largest, longest term project my sixth grade students have tackled, and they are all incredibly proud of the work they’ve done by the end.” McFalls mused. “Blowing Rock School is the only school in the county to require these types of projects of students, and I’m always amazed at the caliber of projects they are able to produce and bring to competition.”

The competitions proved to be as engaging as they were informative.

Ellis Lile, a NCSEF participant remarked, “If Ms McFalls had not assigned it to me in the first place, I would not have done it. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience and would do it again.”

Ellis Lile presents her project for the NCSEF. Photo by Allyson McFalls.

Several other Blowing Rock students qualified at regional competition, but had schedule conflicts and could not compete at the state level.

“This year’s group was especially unique, because the students who competed at the state level showed such a level of dedication and enthusiasm,” McFalls proudly stated. “They seemed to recognize the value of the experience, and understand that they could build upon that to be even more competitive next year, if they choose to compete again. The application process is rigorous, and it takes a lot of support on the part of parents and teachers to help make these students successful.”