JPDS students STEM the tide

(From left) Beri Gershwind, Noa Schleifer, teacher Elana Cohen, Esther Feron and Sami Himmelfarb display their awards at last week's DC Stem Fair.  Photo by Renit Greenstein
(From left) Beri Gershwind, Noa Schleifer, teacher Elana Cohen, Esther Feron and Sami Himmelfarb display their awards at last week’s DC Stem Fair.
Photo by Renit Greenstein

Students at the Jewish Primary Day School of the Nation’s Capital swept the Junior Division awards at last week’s DC STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) Fair that was open to all Washington schools.

Of the 207 projects from students attending 31 schools in Washington, four sixth graders at JPDS came home with medals or ribbons.

Although JPDS has always taught science, a STEM program was started two years ago. The school incorporates STEM topics throughout its entire curriculum.

Elana Cohen, senior science specialist, teaches an independent inquiry program where sixth graders think of a question they would like answered, do research to learn about the science involved, limit variables so they are answering only a specific question and then measure their results.

Last year, JPDS did not win any awards, and the year before that, the school had one third-place winner, Cohen said. This year, the school had first-, second- and third-place winners, and an honorable mention. The categories were open to students in grades six through eight.

While the actual fair and judging occurred March 28, JPDS students were judged earlier in the week so they wouldn’t have had to miss the fair due to Shabbat.

The four winning students “asked questions with a real life connection” and had “a good grasp” on what their project entitled, Cohen said. “I am so proud of them.”

Esther Feron took first place in physics and astronomy for “The Science of Toy Cars.” The 12-year-old said she added various weights to her cars and sent them speeding down ramps of differing inclines to see what would be the fastest combination. She ended up conducting 86 trials.

A combination of a light car on an intense incline sends a car flying of the ramp, she learned. “If I did it again, I would smooth the base of the ramp so they wouldn’t fly off,” she said, adding that her finding could help in the designing of ramps for people who use wheelchairs.

Feron believes her school did so well partly because the winners “are pretty smart kids” and partly because Cohen “encourages us to do better than we thought we could do. She kept pushing us.”

Feron, who also enjoys reading and playing soccer and basketball, was excited to win. She explained her project to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who visited the fair.

“I think it’s really cool that I got to do something in school, and win a medal, even when there are places around the world where girls can’t go to school,” said Feron, who lives in Silver Spring.

Classmate Sami Himmelfarb earned second place in microbiology for her project, “Temperature and Bacterial Growth.” The sixth-grader took bacteria from her keyboard and tested it under different temperatures – in the freezer, under a 137-degree lamp and in 72-degree, or room, temperature.

She learned that bacteria grows best in the room temperature, and said that should make people think more about hand-washing and keeping their keyboard clean.

“Mrs. Cohen, our science teacher, she’s a great teacher. She helped us through the whole project,” said Himmelfarb, who will celebrate her 12th birthday next week. “I’ve always been interested in science, like general public health,” said the Cleveland Park resident who enjoys reading, tennis and softball.

The other winners were Noa Schleifter, who earned third-place in microbiology for her project, “The Power of Garlic” that showed garlic is more effective than a hand sanitizer in killing bacteria, and Beri Gershwind, who received honorable mention in engineering for his project, “Bridge Break.”

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  1. I am so proud of my daughter. Elana Cohen, science teacher extraordinaire, at a wonderful school

  2. What a great teacher! These intelligent and curious students are fortunate to have such an inspiring teacher!


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