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Menahga School interest fair sparks creativity

The Menahga School gym is filled with exhibits on many topics created by the 5th grade student body. (Nick Longworth / Enterprise)

By Nick Longworth

Walking around the Menahga School gym on Wednesday, March 5 you could find exhibits on display about the Battle of the Bulge, how to train a horse or even Lebron James.

That’s because the entire fifth grade class had become experts on the topics they chose to present at the 20th annual interest fair.

“The interest fair is an opportunity for our fifth graders to think about a topic that they’re really interested in learning more about. They spend time researching that topic and then they create a paper, creating a rough draft and going through the writing process,” said Ariana Wright, Menahga Elementary School Principal.

“Then they create and design a display board to share facts about the interesting subjects that they have chosen; they present it in this forum for our community and the entire student body. Everybody can come and ask questions,” Wright said.

Originated as a science fair in 1995, the program has evolved into one with a broader concept. Rather than covering science alone, in 2008 the event became an interest fair. It is now a project that pulls together multiple areas of learning, with community involvement as well.

“It’s a great partnership between home and school. For instance, you’ll see one student whose dad works at a construction company so her focus is on construction. It’s really student driven too; they set their goals on how they want to present this information. There are some parameters and guidelines set by the teachers, but the students can really go above and beyond with what they create. We have videos going on; some kids have done iPad presentations to go along with their topic and topics range from Harry Potter, to the Detroit Red Wings, to the solar system; anything that kids are interested in,” Wright said.

“What started as a science fair evolved into a project that combines the English Language Arts writing component, as well as, the research of the different topic areas. Some research a science area, others a social studies or history area. There is also the presentation aspect; it all kind of meshes together,” Wright said.

Seventh-nine students in total were in the gym presenting, with all three different fifth grade classrooms being represented.

The event’s projects were graded largely by three judges –  Michelle Koch,  Kerry White and Trisha Matheny – whose scoring was based on criteria including coverage of the topic, use of graphics, layout and design, sources, mechanics and presentation.

Fifth grade teacher Lonnie Nelson has been working the event since its beginning, seeing many changes throughout the years. Now as an interest fair, he says the main objective isn’t far off from what it has always been.

“The goal is to produce a project that represents their abilities, interests and quality as a student that they can demonstrate for others. They’re required to be very knowledgeable on their subjects, and judges will walk around and ask them questions, which is a big part of their grade. Feb. 2 was the first day we started working on the project, so they have had around a month to work on them,” Nelson said. “The topics were wide open for the students to choose, although we could not have live animals present in the gym and we tried to stay away from random individuals or bands.”

Although evolution is apparent, both Nelson and Wright see the benefit in the event and project remaining timeless.

“We want to give (students) an opportunity where they are creating and designing their own project; bringing that through to an end to then present to others is something that’s very ‘real world’ applicable. The time management component is a really good learning curve for them. It’s not just a homework assignment that is due tomorrow. It takes planning to prepare for what is next so that you’re ready on that ending day. I think combining all those skills at a high level is something that our kids will need to be able to do,” Wright said.

“One area of learning we really want to focus on is student engagement. We want to make sure that students are connected to what they’re learning. We know students go deeper and learn more when they are engaged. By giving them that freedom to choose a topic that they’re interested in it provides that engagement piece. It’s really a great way for the kids to learn and also connect to the real world,” Wright said.

“I think it’s an excellent chance for the kid’s to demonstrate their writing and organizational skills. It’s also good for verbal skills because they will be asked questions from judges that they will have to answer,” Nelson said. “They started from scratch and did something they are proud of. They created something that literally hundreds of people are commenting on today. It would be nice if they go home tonight, look in the mirror and think they did very well.”

Nick Longworth
A graduate from St. Cloud State University, Nick photographs and writes a variety of stories for nearly every section of The Park Rapids Enterprise. His duties also include section layouts and online content submission.
(218) 732-3364