by Claudia Sherman, for Friedel Jewish Academy
Have you ever wondered what makes a better light saber — one made at home or one purchased in a store? That’s what fifth grader, Noah Shrago, who just happens to be a big Star Wars fan, is attempting to resolve by means of his Friedel Jewish Academy Science Fair project.
Likewise, five Shyken children, all students at Friedel, have turned their home into a science lab. Sixth grader Shmuel is attempting to resolve which liquid (diet or regular soda pop, juice or water) best helps a plant grow. He’s working with his youngest sibling, Aliza, a kindergarten student at Friedel, who wanted to be actively involved in the experiment too.
Aviva, a fifth grader, is trying to grow old seeds. Fourth grader Batsheva wants to find out how long a candle burns while Eliezer, who’s in second grade, is attempting to show how electricity works.
Only a few elementary schools in the Omaha metropolitan area have science fairs, and those that do are unlikely to include kindergartners through third graders. However, Friedel Jewish Academy sponsors a Science Fair for all its students, kindergartners through sixth graders.
“We want to enrich the learning of each and every student at Friedel,” explained Josephine Zbylut-Birky, the school’s enrichment facilitator. It’s an opportunity “for students ‘to think outside the box,’ explore, and work with their families on a project,” she added.
Indeed, given that the science projects are planned and designed at home over an approximately six-week period, the student participants are encouraged to enlist the help of their parents and older siblings. All Friedel students are eligible to participate in the science fair, and about 75 percent do, according to Zbylut-Birky. Although strongly encouraged to participate, participation is voluntary.
Zbylut-Birky explained that although there is not a specific theme each year for the science entries, students are encouraged to do a project on something that interests them and that they would like to find out more about. Guidelines, starting with a scientific question, are provided for the budding scientists to follow. Each youngster is instructed to develop a hypothesis to prove as accurate by discovering new information through use of the scientific method. “The purpose of the Science Fair is the experience of learning more about science,” Zbylut-Birky said.
Judges are elementary education students from Creighton University who are especially interested in teaching science and math. “The Creighton University Elementary Education Department has been very supportive in helping judge the Science Fair, and they have a specific elementary course for science and math teachers,” said Zbylut-Birky who has been at Friedel since 2004 when she retired from teaching at a middle school where she had been for 19 years. Prior to that she had taught elementary school children for 13 years. Former Friedel Principal Cookie Katskee asked Zbylut-Birky to join the Friedel team. Zbylut-Birky told Katskee “yes” and has never regretted it.
Community members are invited to attend the Science Fair from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 4 in the auditorium of the Jewish Community Center. A recognition ceremony is scheduled for 7 p.m. when all students will be recognized.