Center For Ocean Sciences Education Excellence COSEE Alaska
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Alaskan Students Shine with Award-winning Ocean Science Fair Projects - 04.27.2010

COSEE Alaska’s judges at the March 27 Alaska State Science and Engineering Fair were faced with a difficult task – to select award winners from among more than 50 projects. The judges included both elders and scientists who selected projects to judge for COSEE awards because they addressed a scientific problem and were also relevant to local culture or the coastal community.

A project from Barrow, Alaska, which questioned whether it was colder or warmer inside empty apuyat (ice houses) vied with a “Silent Killer” project from Anchorage about whether or not ponds created to filter silt from highway runoff were functioning properly. Two girls from Unalaska, far out the Aleutian Chain, participated by Skype in a cyberfair.

At the Awards Ceremony the next day, COSEE Alaska gave out $675 to 12 students at the elementary, middle school, and high school level, including the cyberfair participants. The first place award for a high school project went to Philip Sittichinli from Barrow who posed the question about the effect of a warming climate on bacterial growth on muktuk (whale blubber) in siqluaq (ice cellars) traditionally dug down to permafrost.

First place awards at the middle school and elementary level went to students Charity Haskins, Unalaska, and Nathan Shriebel, Anchorage. Charity’s project focused on experiments with metals and corrosion in relation to “Whatever Floats Your Boat?” Her background research took her to the Internet, to chemists, and to her local harbor to interview boat builders. Nathan’s project was on the topic of the coastal rain forest.

Because of the wealth of high-quality entries, additional special awards were given to students whose projects focused on the life cycle of the coho salmon that included having elders teach the class Yup’ik words and practices; pollution of a local river, and mercury accumulation in northern pike – a species of high cultural and subsistence importance. And the first ever Inspirational Teacher award was given to Raphia Maglanio, a teacher in Mountain Village.

The participants in the State Fair emerged from fairs held at the school and school district level all over Alaska. The University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) Center for Cross-cultural Studies, under the leadership of Dr. Ray Barnhardt, a COSEE Alaska P.I., encouraged and supported school district and individual school efforts through training sessions with teachers and district coordinators, on-site visits, and a wealth of “how to” materials, including hundreds of project ideas.

Alan Dick, a retired “Bush” science teacher and author of Village Science, logged hundreds of miles flying his own airplane to six villages along the lower Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers and out to Unalaska. He also helped students in four other Lower Yukon villages plan their projects via email and Skype.

Wilma Osborne, one of the first graduate students in the new UAF Indigenous Studies PhD program and herself an Inupiaq Native, provided training and support in the Inupiaq region of northern Alaska and served as the judge of cultural and community relevance at the state fair.

A revised “how to” manual for the ocean science fairs was published in spring, 2010. For more information and to download the entire manual or specific sections, see the news story COSEE Alaska Guide to Science Camps, Fairs, and Projects.

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