Close encounters

Fair puts students in touch with science
By: Jenifer Gee, Journal Staff Writer
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Students couldn't stop touching anything at the Horizon Charter School Science Fair ” including the Madagascar Hissing Cockroach. About 350 people crammed into a small gym to take a hands-approach to science Friday afternoon. I wanted everything to be hands-on because most kids are kinesthetic learners, said Maria Blix, area coordinator for Horizon Charter School. Blix was in charge of a show now two years in the running. She and parents work hard to make it a fun fair for children and adults, she said. The displays included large-scale models of the human ear, eye, digestive system and heart. Children crawled through a model of the small intestine and walked inside a human eye. They also cautiously approached a cow heart on display next to a large papier-mâché heart parents made in three days. Paula Geer was one of the parents who worked on the heart. In the noisy gym, another parent who was also on the heart team, leaned down close and pointed out the intricacies of the heart and why they are important to the curious students who stopped by. I know my kids were real squeamish when they thought about studying the heart but when they actually got to build it, they were excited, Geer said. Ten-year-old Kelsie McGuire, who held the heart with a strong hand, said it felt hard and slimy at the same time. I thought it was awesome, Kelsie said. Other popular displays included a pen of live pygmy goats, a wildlife specialist holding a bat and members from Sierra Wildlife showing off different varieties of hawks and falcons. At the Eco Station booth, students were in awe of a carpenter python, Argentine Tegu and the cockroaches they were allowed to touch. Jacob Hawk, a fifth-grade student, touched the carpenter python that Eco Station naturalist Kent Anderson had on display. It felt kind of sticky and rubbery, Jacob said. I really like snakes because they're cool. At the same booth, one girl squealed in delight and fear as a cockroach scurried up her arm. Kent Anderson, a naturalist with Eco Station, quickly leaned over to grab it as he explained why hand-on learning is so important. The best thing for people to do to not only get over their fears, but to learn is to be hands-on, Anderson said. While checking a similar but less squirmish bug display, fourth-grader Hailey Elias asked about the kind of dead but vibrantly colored bugs pinned in 12-by-18-inch display cases. The cases were supplied by entomologist Phil Mays, who traveled from Malibu at the request of Blix to show off his array of bugs. Mays brought about 10 cases to display out of the 200 or so he keeps at home. Once you get started, it just keeps growing, Mays said. And the most popular bug he had on display? Mays said students were very curious about a menacing looking cave scorpion. Students and their parents liked the ability to touch and see close up the variety of bugs and other displays at the fair. There are just a lot of good, neat things for kids to learn about and parents, too, said April Elias, an Auburn resident who accompanied her daughter, Hailey, to the science fair. Blix says she plans to continue holding the fair each year to keep students interested in science and to make it an event the community can depend on. I just really want to get excited about science and see the variety of fields they can get into, Blix said. The Journal's Jenifer Gee can be reached at or comment at