Engineering Meets Liberal Arts

Olivia B. and her partner, Siena C., sat down with their computer, LEGO Robotics kit, a mission to build the “Smart Spinner” and, for Olivia, a question.

“Do we exactly know what this is going to do?” she asked.

“No,” Siena replied flatly. She sat at the screen, and of the pair was clearly more at home with the programming aspect than the LEGO building part.

“Here,” Siena said, passing the box of LEGOs to Olivia as she brought the schematic up on the screen. “You’ve got the magic touch. Why don’t you handle this part?”

It was an ordinary afternoon in Tammy Calhoun’s fourth grade class and Siena, whether deliberately or not, was being coy about her own building skills. The previous section had just finished up making interactive games and animations by writing code using an MIT program called Scratch, while their peers in class at this moment were delving deep into what had become comfortable territory: assembling the physical parts and digital instructions to make inanimate LEGOs come to life.

“When I first introduced LEGO Robotics, everything was new to the kids and everything was more difficult,” said Head of Lower School Caroline Badri. “Starting with just logging in, for example. Then the directions kids followed for building the robots weren’t nearly as elegant, and the program itself has become much more refined and user friendly. When you combine that with just how tech-savvy kids are today versus 10 years ago, it’s really impressive what they manage to do.”

And Badri was quick to point out that while there was no question as to whether or how the students would use programming knowledge in their later lives, the children were learning other, equally important lessons too.

“When you see the kids work as a team, they have to figure out how to negotiate and work with one another and collaborate to diagnose and solve the problem when something goes wrong.”

Calhoun picked up the thought.

“Many people consider coding akin to learning a language and I think that’s absolutely right,” she said. “As a teacher, you see kids working through problems on their own and my job is often to step back and just plant a seed of a possible solution, to be almost indirect when helping, because the kids can — and want to — figure it out on their own.

“Obviously what they’re doing ties in perfectly with rise of STEM and the future demand for skills like these,” Calhoun continued. However, what makes LEGO Robotics and writing programs in Scratch so much more engaging for teacher and student alike is their ability to engage the students’ creative side. So while the skills they’re learning are certainly practical, they in no way feel vocational; it’s more like engineering-meets-liberal arts.

“It can change a child’s whole mindset,” said Badri.

The Trials and Travails of Science Fair

By David W. ’19

Every summer, rising seventh and eighth graders are given one deceptively simple assignment: Come up with five ideas. In the months that follow, students will expand one of those ideas into a massive, multi-month project that culminates in a single trifold poster board.

Science fair is an impressive undertaking. It starts with an endless array of forms, rapid brainstorming, and constant refinement as students try to plan out their next few months. After the North Museum approves their project, the experimentation process officially starts.


Students design their experiments from the ground up. They perform initial research, form hypotheses and conduct experiments. After what can become weeks of testing, they meticulously comb through all of their data to form a conclusion.

And finally, on a Monday in January, all of the students bring in their poster boards which are then graded and judged by numerous faculty members. The winners move on to compete in the North Museum Science and Engineering Fair.

On Thursday, the students were able to present their accomplishments to members of the LCDS community in the Buckwalter Gymnasium during Family Science Night. Cougar News spoke to several students to learn more about their work.

Amelia L. ’21 tested different natural substances on termites to determine how well they compete with pesticides currently in use. “My parents both grew up on a farm,” Amelia said. “My mother said that they often used chemicals on their crops to eliminate pests such as termites, and I wondered if there were any alternatives that were more environmentally friendly.” Over the course of seven days, Amelia tested the effect of different substances on termites. “I know a few people who have actually had their homes destroyed by termites — they can be a big problem. But we have to be conscious of the chemicals we’re using,” she said, as humans consume the plants that farmers spray pesticides on. “Hopefully one day we’ll be able to find an alternative to pesticide chemicals.”

Lucas N. ’21 tested the effectiveness of different shapes of seawalls. “About every 1-2 years, a tsunami occurs. And one of the first defenses a city has is a seawall,” Lucas said. A seawall is a giant concrete structure designed to blunt the force of a tidal wave and give the population of a city more time to evacuate. Lucas discovered that a concave-shaped seawall does the best job of minimizing damage to the city and redirecting the force of the wave back out to sea. His setup included a cross-section of a mock beach (including sand, gravel, and a seawall constructed of clay) and water which would be displaced to form a wave. “These walls can be life-saving, so it’s crucial to find the most effective design,” Lucas said.

Isadora M. ’22 conducted an experiment to discover how best to deter mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus. “During the research phase, I discovered that female mosquitoes are actually attracted to fragrances that humans emit, and not the blood itself,” she said. According to Isa, mosquitoes are attracted to carbon dioxide; mosquito repellent masks this fragrance. In her setup, mosquitoes and a fragrance were placed on either side of a black line. If mosquitoes crossed the black line, she concluded that they were attracted to the fragrance. If not, they were repelled by it. “There are so many variables to take into consideration when doing a project like this. For example, I only had one breed of mosquito, and it was pretty hard to keep them alive,” Isa said. At the time of the interview, Isa had yet to complete her experiments, but she did comment on the process: “This all came out of a conversation I had with my cousin about Zika. But the design, the experiment, everything was mine. It feels really good to step back and look at your work.”

Other students included Michael C. ’22, who attempted to discover at which speed an e-bike operated most efficiently; Grant G. ’22, who experimented on a self-built hydraulic, prosthetic arm to determine which fluids could lift the most weight; Zoe B. ’22 who tested different mulches to find out which most effectively prevented erosion; and Anjali L. ’22, who designed a water-free eco-friendly toilet, capable of incinerating human feces. She used compressed air to guide artificial feces to an incineration chamber, and said that the design could be used “in countries with little water or sewage infrastructure.” She plans on continuing this project, hoping to design a working model of the eco-friendly toilet.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of science fair is the ability of the students to step into something completely new and create a project from scratch. Each student creates their own experiment out of nothing, putting vast amounts of time and effort into the process. For now, these scientists get a well-deserved break. But soon, summer will be back — and a flurry of new scientists will be hard at work seeing projects take shape.

2016-2017 Seventh Grade Science Fair Projects Selected for the NMSEF

1st) Alexa A. — Different Fillers for Heating Pads

2nd) Liz P. — Microplastics Identified in Local Streams (microplastics are small particles of plastic that find their way into waterways. They come from consumer and beauty products that we wash down our drains)

3rd) Grant G. — Different Hydraulic Liquids Used in a Prosthetic Grip

Honorable Mentions:

Christopher H. — Different Types of Livestock “Poop” on Plant Growth
Ben A. — Magnetism and Humidity
Zoe B. — Mulch and Erosion
Michael C. — E-bike motors
Anjali I. — Poop on Incineration Rate
Isa M. — Mosquito Attraction to Different Fragrances
Laurel M. — Acrylic Versus Water
Mimi N. — Temperature on Lacrosse Ball Bounce Height
Eddie P. — Saltwater Concentration on Evaporation Rate
Florence S. — Varying Scoop Shape on Pick-up Success of a Robotic Arm
Andrew S. — Different Colored Lights on Plant Growth
George W. — Cyanobacterial Fertilizer on Germination
Skyler W. — Different Colored Roofs on Heating Effectiveness

2016-2017 Eighth Grade Science Fair Projects Selected for the NMSEF

1st) Arielle B. — Shade Balls: Save Water for less than 0.1 cent per Liter*
2nd) Kent P. — The Quest for the Hully Grail
3rd) Isabella G. — Top KNOTch

* — Arielle’s project was the junior reserve champion at the county-wide event in March.

Honorable Mentions:

Sarvesh A. — Light in the Night
Madeline B. — Toxic Sunscreen
Taylor C. — Turn It Up
Thomas C. — Breaking Bad
Luke F. — The Effect of Root Type on Erosion
Cassidy G. — Don’t Get Burned
Annika K. — Rough Air Ahead
Charles L. — Hydrogen and Oxygen: The Fuel of the Future!
Amelia L. — Terminating Termites
Amelia W. — Sunny Side Up
Linnea W. — Nanosilver Nuisance
Cameron Y. — Wheels of Change

2017 North Museum Science & Engineering Fair Auxiliary Award Winners

— Grant G.: Junior winner of the AMS International “Excellence in Materials Science and Engineering” Auxiliary Award.
— Lisa E., Anjali I., George W.: Winners of Broadcom Masters Auxiliary Awards.
— Isadora M.: Winner of the Creative Solutions to Lancaster County Problems Auxiliary Award.
— Kary F. — Senior winner of the Eurofins Lancaster Laboratories “Achievement in Analytical Chemistry” Auxiliary Award.
— Elizabeth P., Isadora M., Luke F.: First, second and third winners, respectively, of the Farm and Home Foundation of Lancaster County Auxiliary Awards.
— Calvin B.: Winner of the Intel Excellence in Computer Science Auxiliary Award.
— Elizabeth P.: Junior winner of the Izaak Walton League of America “Lancaster Chapter Environmental Science” Auxiliary Award.
— Florence S.: Winner of the Lancaster County Agriculture Council “Agricultural Innovator” Auxiliary Award.
— Elizabeth P., Arielle B.: Second and third place junior winners of the Lancaster County Conservation District Auxiliary Awards.
— Elizabeth P.: Winner of the NASA Earth Systems Science Auxiliary Award.
— Arielle B.: Winner of the NOAA “Taking the Pulse of the Planet” Auxiliary Award.
— Elizabeth P., Thomas C.: Junior and honorable mention winner of the Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences Auxiliary Awards.
— Isadora M.: Junior winner of the Pennsylvania Specialty Pathology “Excellence in Medicine” Auxiliary Award.
— Grant G., Florence S., Cameron Y.: First and second place junior and honorable mention junior winners of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers Auxiliary Awards.



Family Science Night 2017

Bedecked in orange safety vest and goggles, Head of Upper School Todd Trout presided over the Family Science Night Egg Drop as a vision of safety-first enthusiasm. Todd had been quite under the weather, but when his wife, Lower School Science Coordinator and Family Science Night creator and emcee Laura Trout suggested he sit this Egg Drop out, Todd wouldn’t hear of it.

“No! It’s the Egg Drop!” Laura recalled Todd saying. “You need me!”


Todd soldiered on, and along with a wildlife presentation from ZooAmerica, an inflatable planetarium rented from IU-13 and an improbably crowd pleasing Cup Stack game, Family Science Night 2017 continued its run as an unabashed success.

“It’s a testament to the program that on a Thursday night so many families come together to cheer and enjoy science,” Laura said.

This is the last year Family Science Night will be an annual event. Next year, the plan is to hold an international festival and “multicultural experience” in its stead. Going forward, the winter event would alternate between the humanities-focused international festival and the science-themed Family Science Night.

Rats and Junk Food Enrich LS Science

In Carrie Haggerty’s science class, first-graders are spending six weeks investigating the effects of a healthy diet versus a junky, sugar-based one. They’re seeing the importance of nutrition first-hand with the help of two new classmates: a pair of lively white rats named A and B.

During the first week, A and B both ate oatmeal, but A drank milk while B washed down its oats with sugar water. The students weighed both when they first arrived, and are repeating the process each week to collect data and precisely track the difference between A and B’s growth.

As Haggerty reached into the cage and scooped B up, she asked for a volunteer to help with the weighing. Liam W. gamely stood by the scale and readied himself for the rodent handoff, but offered a disclaimer first.

“I’m scared when we do this,” he said matter-of-factly. “You’ll be fine sweetie,” Haggerty assured him, and he was. Armed with new numbers, the students worked out the math on the whiteboard and discovered that B had grown 10 percent less than A because of its nutritionally empty diet.

One of the things that delights Haggerty most about the class is the way it manages to combine math, journaling, reading, and the fundamentals of nutrition and the scientific method into a single curriculum that the kids simply love.

The course was devised by the Pennsylvania Society for Biomedical Research and intended for fifth-graders, but Haggerty and Lower School Science Coordinator Laura Trout adapted the material in a way that gives first graders a similar, immersive experience.

“It’s one thing to talk about nutrition or to teach subtraction on its own, but when the kids can see the results for themselves and use math to measure that, it’s just so much more effective,” Haggerty said.

“And fun.”

Angling For Knowledge

Prospecting for critters with the zeal of pioneers panning for gold in 1850s California, the fifth grade immersed itself — literally — in Brubaker Run creek to explore in real life the science they’ve studied in the classroom.

Although for some students, zeal was tempered with a dollop of wariness.

Standing in the middle of the creek with water flowing just an inch below the top of her galoshes, Emily P. voiced a concern. “I don’t want any leeches on me!” she said.

“That’s never happened!” came Caroline Badri’s instant response. “You’ll be fine.”

The assistant head of Lower School joined T.J. O’Gorman, Meg Reed, Sue LeFevre and Science Department Chairwoman Laura Trout on the interdisciplinary field trip to Rader Park, where students tested the water quality of the stream, used their surroundings to inspire poetry, and considered our collective interdependence with a kind of role-playing game that cast the students as property developers.

To gauge the water quality, students took samples and measured a number of variables: the concentration of dissolved oxygen, nitrates and phosphates, the water’s temperature and turbidity, and the macroinvertebrate population. The latter is especially important because these organisms, such as crayfish, can only survive in a narrow range of water conditions and thus their presence or absence serves as a bellwether for the quality of the stream.

O’Gorman led the “Sum of Parts” exercise, in which students were given riverfront property and $20 million to spend developing it. For example, one entrepreneurial fifth-grader decked out his spread with a saw mill and lumber yard. After everyone’s developed their property, they discover that their parcels adjoin one another. As neighbors along “one big river, if they build something especially extravagant, they find they’re unwittingly polluting the river for everyone downstream,” O’Gorman said.

Students in Reed’s group sat in the sunshine, working on “writing inspired by nature,” she explained. This included a partner exercise called Human Camera, in which one student takes 5 seconds to observe a scene, then uses that mental snapshot to recreate in free verse or haiku the image he or she saw to constellate that picture in the partner’s mind.

As Reed was explaining this, Peachy L. ran up to share her poem with Reed, but issued a caveat first. “It doesn’t have any personification,” Peachy said apologetically.

“That doesn’t matter,” said Reed. “I’d love to hear anything you’ve written.”

“It’s wonderful for kids to get outside like this,” Badri said.