Thursday, May 01, 2014
WILLIAMSBURG — Zooming around on a hovercraft is not an everyday occurrence at the Hilltown Cooperative Charter Public School.

At a recent science fair, however, students and parents lined up for rides on a student-built hovercraft, donning ear protectors before climbing aboard and zipping back and forth in the foyer of the school.

Last month’s fair was the culmination of several weeks of research, planning, writing and production undertaken by 50 Hilltown students.

Project topics ran the gamut from the natural sciences, to technology, engineering, chemistry, and physics.

A brother-and-sister team, Ben and Rowan Howe put their heads together — and with help from their family — built a hovercraft made out of wood, a shower curtain and duct tape.

An electric leaf blower was mounted on the base to power the vehicle.

While Ben and his mother, Susannah Howe, operated the hovercraft ride, Rowan stood by a table covered with photographs of the project’s construction, explaining how the craft was made and the scientific principles that made it work.

“The kids have been super-excited to work on their projects and bring them to the fair,” said Ellen Ferris, a Hilltown parent.

The fair featured about 46 projects undertaken by students from kindergarten to grade six. Ferris has a daughter in kindergarten, a son in first grade and another in second grade.

The science fair, a relatively new program at the school, was coordinated by parents, according to Administrative Coordinator Amy Aaron.

“We have had three science fairs here. We didn’t have one last year because there just weren’t enough parents available to make it work,” Aaron said.

This year however, parents were available and eager to help.

“I jumped at the chance to get involved,” said Mitch Hartley, who works with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Hadley.

His 9-year-old son, Reid, presented a project on the extraction of DNA from strawberries.

Other projects included the science of syrup, light reflection as modeled in a cat’s eye, survival water purification, geode formation, designing and testing solar ovens, and molecular gastronomy.

Henry Tobin-Schrems, 9, created a project that examined forms of alternative energy.

“It is important because fossil fuel is running out and we need to find an alternative,” he said.

“A lot more people are thinking ‘what will we use for power?’ So solar is one answer.”

Students in the upper grades were invited to peruse their schoolmates’ projects and lend support.

Galen Winsor, 14, listened as Henry Tibin-Schrems explained how his mini solar-powered house worked.

“I love the house he built and he also gave me an explanation of solar power and how wind turbines work,” Winsor said. “I thought it was very interesting and that he did a really good job on it.”

Parents began promoting the fair in December, giving students a few months to come up with their projects and a month to work on them.

“This is all about the students’ interests and work. There were no tests involved and the teachers were not making them do this,” Hartley said. “They had fun with it, and having fun is a powerful way to teach and to learn.”

Aaron said the fair was such a success this year that the school will likely do it next year when the Hilltown Charter School is in its new location at 1 Industrial Parkway in Easthampton.