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Perham's Olivia McNair places fourth in worldwide science competition

The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), is one of the largest science competitions in the world. The fair invites students to showcase their findings to the public as well as eight judges that determine finalists in their res...

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McNair competed with hundreds of competitors from around the world. Michael Denny/Perham Focus

The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), is one of the largest science competitions in the world. The fair invites students to showcase their findings to the public as well as eight judges that determine finalists in their respective divisions. Olivia McNair, a Perham junior, placed fourth in Behavioral and Social Sciences, an achievement that floored the staff at Perham Highschool.

Mcnair devised a project that carefully inspected data in regard to school scheduling. The project was titled the "Impact of High School Scheduling on Test Scores." Her research began at the beginning of the school year as a part of a science research class. Her research started initially after noticing the difference in classroom scheduling between New York Mills and Perham. New York Mills requires 144 hours of instruction, whereas Perham only requires 114 hours. The difference equates to 30 hours, a six week scheduling difference.

"I wanted to know if the difference in time had an effect on rates of proficiency, and after I found it didn't, maybe it was the types of schedules," said McNair. Her research then pitted block scheduling versus traditional scheduling. After hours and hours of data collection and analysis, McNair discovered that traditionally-scheduled schools test with higher proficiency.

McNair commented on the difficulty she experienced finding the scheduling types that schools utilized. This information is not typically displayed, which sent her looking through schools handbooks to gain valuable information. McNair carefully compiled her data into charts, plots, and graphs...numbers upon numbers that could be the key to better learning comprehension. She took her findings to the regional science fair and won first place overall. At State, she won a gold medal for her work, which led to competing with some of the most intelligent students across the globe at ISEF.

Shawn Stafki teaches high school science, specifically the science and research class McNair has earned so many accolades in. Stafki explained that he loves to watch students choose an idea then chase down an answer. "Words don't really do her justice, she's the hardest working student I think I've ever had. She works her tail off at everything," said Stafki, who had only praise for the young behavioral scientist and described her project as more of a master's thesis than a highschool science project. The school district has only had two students win at ISEF. Stafki explained that it's nearly impossible to win with so many entries, 80 countries are competing. "To think you can win fourth place at something like that, from little-ole Perham, it's just absolutely breathtaking," said Stafki.

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ISEF was held in Phoenix, Arizona in 2019 and took place over five days. There is a presentation day when students must show their project to judges, followed by a public viewing day. The week-long event is packed with informational sessions, celebration and fun. Students were also able to attend an Arizona Diamondbacks baseball game, all expenses paid by the organizers.

So what now for the science champion? McNair has presented her data to the Minnesota Department of Education and hopes to have her findings published. Additionally she wants to expand upon her research next year. "Right now I'm just looking at Minnesota test scores so the research is applicable to Minnesota, but next year I would like to look at ACT and SAT scores to see if this is more applicable to our nation as a whole," said McNair.

Related Topics: SCIENCE
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