Saturday, February 20, 2016

Austin Energy Regional Science Festival

This was my fifth year judging the projects entered in the Behavioral and Social Sciences category.  The field was crowded. Eight teams of judges were assigned to the 57 entrants. Each team chose one participant to advance to the second round of judging. Among those eight, we chose first through fifth place awards. The top three were advanced to the state competition. In addition, a select committee of judges chose Best of Fair awards from all categories. Those also advanced, of course. Various organizations, including Austin Energy, granted special prizes to outstanding projects. Although we judges adhered to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair standards, the independents could apply their own metrics.
My Choice for 1st Place

With any large set, the elements can be sorted many ways. With years of experience, the process committee has a pretty good insight into the abstracts. So, the sets tend to be more or less even. It was the “less” side of that that I found difficult. We know that it is likely that any one group could have more projects that were superior to any projects from some other group. Yet, each conveniently chosen group in Behavioral had only one project allowed to advance to the next round.  The same method applied to other categories. On the other hand, computers and robotics were under-represented this year.

It is also clear that some schools invest a lot of resources in this. Over the past five years, I have seen interesting projects fall just a bit short for lack of mentoring. 
My choice for 2nd Place
Buried by the process

Judging begins with individuals. We then get together and seek consensus. If you advocate well for your choices, you can carry the day for your prodigies. On the other hand, social capital pays dividends; and a judge who is a psychology professor necessarily has more of it. Judging is a gestalt, not a tally.

The underlying problem is that all of these projects are winners. Eighty-five percent of success is showing up. Decisions are made by those who show up. These 2200 from 3rd through 12th grades in 12 counties representing 21 school districts, plus charter schools, private schools, and home schools, were the ones who did the work.  It is easy to say that the median grade is a C+, but the median grade at a science fair is really an A-minus.
A popular subject
handled with finesse
but lost in the process

Behavioral and Social Science Middle School Winners.
  • 1st Sophie Polidoro, Canyon Ridge, “How does text color affect retention?”
  • 2nd Cameron Ferweda, Canyon Ridge, “How do certain foods affect peoples' reaction time and memory?”
  • 3rdJessica Cummings, Canyon Ridge, “How does age affect how people focus on abnormalities in their environment?”
  • 4th Allie Cermak, Round Rock Christian Academy MS, “Circadian Rhythm Your Brain's Clock”
  • 5th Robinson Lopez, Dripping Springs, “Picture Perfect”

Behavioral and Social Science High School Winners.
So much talent crammed in
next to each other.
  • 1st Curtis Harrison and Nicole Deere, Vista Ridge, “The Effect of the Sensation of Fear versus Reward on Learning Capabilities, Short-Term and Long-Term Memory in Procambarus clarkii,”
  • 2nd Travis Cantwell, Veritas Academy, “The Fatigue Effect: Aural and Cognitive Exhaustion in Children with Cochlear Implants”
  • 3rd Joselyne Flores-Vivas and Aimee Heim, Vista Ridge, “Effects of Rubik's Cube Design on Speed”
  • 4th Sadaf Karim, Renaissance Academy, “How Do Fears Change By Age and Gender?”
  • 5th Kristin Hauck, Bowie High School, “The Effect of External Factors on Short Term Memory”
 The American Psychological Association gave a special award to Harrison and Deere for their work with the crayfish, Procambarus clarkii.  BioAustin recognized Cameron Ferweda’s research. Thomas Wintenburg of Vista Ridge entered a mathematics project on “Reducing the Cost of U.S. Military Bases.” He was singled out by the U.S. Air Force, Austin Energy, and the Mu Theta Alpha mathematics honor society.

Travis Cantwell's original research deserves special attention. Children with certain hearing deficits are give cochlear implants. It solves the hearing problem. The secondary consequence is cognitive fatigue. Even as a child, Cantwell noticed that his sister tired easily. We judges argued his research project back and forth. The problem was that we could not have two first places. So, push came to shove. The bottom line was that his advocate pushed when I shoved. The crayfish won. It was not fair. We should call them science un-fairs.


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