By ELENA GRANDE
For Your Niskayuna
NISKAYUNA — The Birchwood Elementary gymnasium was buzzing with curiosity and excitement Feb. 25 when students, teachers and parents alike gathered for the schoolwide learning fair.
The learning fair, which takes place every two to three years, has been a tradition for Birchwood for about 15 years. It allows kids in grades K-5 to study a topic they’re interested in, create a project and display it to fellow students, proud parents and teachers.
Although it’s arguably the children who benefit most from the event, the teachers gain an immense amount of satisfaction from seeing their students go out of their way to work on something they’re so passionate about.
“It gives the kids a chance to research their own topic,” said teacher Susan Feyrer. “They’re able to show their knowledge and enthusiasm on that topic.”
Many would argue that children think of homework like the monsters under their beds: with unhappy resignation. However, that’s not the case with the Birchwood students. They went out of their way to do homework that wasn’t required of them.
“Kids have this natural curiosity,” teacher Ellen Dirienzo said, “and their parents’ interest and support certainly fuels the process.”
The event itself seemed to go on without any glitches. However, the faculty agreed that there were ways they could make it work even better in the future. This would entail re-evaluating the date so as to not coincide with other schoolwide events such as the fifth-grade state fair, another project-based event, which took place only a week earlier.
Principal Debra Berndt, along with other staff members, felt that it was not necessary or even beneficial to do a learning fair every year, because the students might begin to see it as something that is required of them, rather than something enjoyable.
“If we had it every year, it could get really stressful for families,” Berndt said. “Participation would start to dwindle because the students would begin to find the process too demanding and time-consuming.”
Judging by the tremendous number of poster boards and displays filling the gymnasium, this year’s crop of students was eager to learn new things and share their hard-earned knowledge with their classmates, teachers and families.
Students’ stations at the fair ranged from carefully put together research assignments to creative, well-thought out scientific experiments.
Fiona Dicerbo, one of a few fifth-graders who participated in the fair, chose to present something — or someone — near and dear to her heart: her pet hamster, Charlie.
“A couple years ago, a kid brought in his pet snake,” Fiona said. “So I thought it would be cool if I brought my hamster in for the project.”
Her project included an artistic poster that displayed the proper care of hamsters as well general information about the animal, as well as the hamster herself, which at the time was sleeping soundly in a corner of her cute, decorative cage.
Having the chance to do something separate from the school’s usual curriculum was something Fiona had a lot of fun with.
“This was optional and more of a fun project,” she said. “You could do experiments or really anything, which I thought was cool.”
Fellow fifth-grader Charlie Parisi also had a great time working on his project, an at-home science experiment that dealt with the causes of cavities.
“I was just wondering about tooth decay,” he said. “When I was younger I had a lot of cavities, so I wanted to find out how to prevent them.”
The attendees were impressed with Charlie’s experiment to find out what causes the bicuspid blues. He collected chicken bones from past family meals to represent human teeth, and various liquids like juice and soda to serve as the testers.
“We put the bones in different liquids for about a week to see how they reacted,” Charlie said. “We used one bone as the control, and the others acted as variables.”
He raved about how much more fun and enjoyable this project was from what he normally does for homework. He said it was a nice change from the written assignments teachers usually give, and the fact that it wasn’t graded removed a lot of stress that would otherwise limit the fun of the project.
“My favorite part about the project was putting all the bones in different liquids,” Charlie said. “I learned what happens to your teeth when they’re exposed to the different drinks.”
A quick stroll around the perimeter of the bustling gym was enough to see that this year’s learning fair was a hit. Students beamed from every corner of the room as they stood proudly by their displays, engaging and enlightening passers-by with their newfound knowledge.
With the success of this year’s learning fair, and the enthusiasm exuded from the students, parents and faculty, this event is likely to carry on for years to come.
Photos by Elena Grande/For Your Niskayuna