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Science Strikes Back: Community Science Fair Goes Virtual

Science Strikes Back
Participants in the 2021 Science Strikes Back science fair interact over Zoom. Isabelle Herde (top, second from left) with Upham Woods Outdoor Learning Center helped lead the event.

Finding ways to bring science to life and to create excitement about its importance can be challenging for educators. It can be even tougher in this time when many students are learning from home.

But organizers of Science Strikes Back, a program that attracts grade schoolers to college students and adults throughout the region, weren’t about to let the annual science fair languish this year — its fifth.

Escuela Verde, a public charter high school overlooking the Menomonee Valley, hosts the event.

READ: Escuela Verde Nurtures Project-Based Environmental Thinkers In Milwaukee

Joey Zocher cofounded both the school and, together with Upham Woods Outdoors Learning Center, the science fair.  Zocher says their inspiration grew out of an earlier iteration that took place in downtown Milwaukee.

"Science Strikes Back grew out of a Cedar Block Adult Science Fair that happened at Turner Hall many moons ago [starting in 2005],” she said. When it ended, Zocher said, “A bunch of us nerds wanted to continue. Five years ago Escuela Verde took it on to encourage students to share their passions and science with the community."

Credit Science Strikes Back
A project from Science Strikes Back's 2020 science fair.

The 2021 event that took place earlier this week looked nothing like previous Science Strikes Back.

“Last year, if you would have walked into Escuela Verde, the event would be overflowing from the first floor, the second floor and into the neighboring coffee shop,” explained Zocher. “And each area had a section of presenters so you could meander through and see of course different age groups."

Zocher didn’t dwell on the fact that there were fewer science fair participants and observers this year. Instead, she zeroed in on the positive, including the fact that more college students joined in.

“This to me, you showing up is the statement that we are a community, and we’re a community here together that are committed to, I suppose, value science and value each other,” she said.

Entrants from grade school age to adult submitted a total of 11 projects. Viewers and judges alike were dispatched on Zoom to break out rooms to learn what creators had come up with.

Maryland Avenue Montessori eighth grader Daisy DiCarlo presented what she called “My Scientific Story on Prairies." She used a series of slides and photos to lay out the characteristics and types of prairies and what she discovered in the parcel near her family’s house.


“So here are a few of pictures from my observations, this is milkweed, which I'm sure you guys are pretty familiar with, and this is actually goldenrod — I don’t know if it was just me, but I did not know what it was when I first saw it. I actually had to use the seek app to help me identify it,” said Daisy. “The reason is because it looks a little different than it does in the summertime, so I did learn that the appearance changes over season.”

Daisy’s project captivated judges, earning her the highest scored prize.

Four Escuela Verde 10th graders who call their project “Tsunami” captured the grand prize. Julio Coronado explained their project involved tasking 14 students to drink 12 glasses of water per day.

“To answer the question what’s the relationship between drinking water and peeing," explained Coronado. "Does the temperature of the water have anything to do with the amount we pee?"

Credit Science Strikes Back
Tsunami captured the grand prize for researching the effects of drinking 12 glasses of water per day on 14 test subjects.

Each team member took their turn walking the audience through the phases of their project.

Julio said their results were inconclusive because very few of the participants were able to drink 12 cups of water a day.

As the 50-plus people who had gathered for the virtual science fair reluctantly said their goodbyes, Science Strikes Back cofounder Joey Zocher spotted a sixth grader named Ronin. He won the science award in last year’s competition.

“I just want to do a special shout out to Ronin because I know last year I met you. Having you on this on the chat has been a delight,” Zocher said.

Ronin, who lives with his family in Racine, returned this year with another experiment.

Credit Science Strikes Back
Sixth grader Ronin was a 2020 winner of Science Strikes Back and returned virtually in the 2021 version.

Zocher said Ronin’s excitement is what Science Strikes Back is all about. “I think he’s got a great sense of humor, a passion for science and it’s great having him every year,” she explained.

Whether it’s live and in person, virtual, or something in between, Zocher said the event will be back next year.

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Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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