Fifth & sixth graders win big at SARSEF

Making Science Purposeful and Important

By Kelly Smith, Sixth Grade Science Teacher

Our class project was a cumulative effort from all of the sixth grade students for the benefit of our school’s farmyard. Farmyard teacher Mr. Jeff Clashman presented the start of our project in August of 2020. He casually mentioned, “Ask your students for ideas to keep farmyard animals cool during days of excessive heat.” 

This challenge happened to fit naturally within the sixth grade learning standards and it grew from there. What a perfect opportunity to connect sixth grade science content with a relevant and purposeful problem facing our school’s farmyard. As a teacher for more than twenty years, I’ve learned that if something is purposeful and important, student motivation is increased. 

Throughout this experience I have observed and recognized quite the learning journey of students. Like them, I am humbled as there is so much more to learn not only about our farmyard creatures, but the others who have been visiting, too. Neither the students or I expected that the result of our class project would involve the ducks and not the chickens. We also didn’t expect predators to steal any of them. One project led to another and another. It just keeps on going. 

Along the way we have learned things large and small: “Goat proof everything." Okay, back to the drawing board. Set up any and all tests nowhere near any of the goats! But we were surprised most by the preferred shelter chosen by the farmyard birds.

Even though we haven’t solved all of the current problems facing our school’s farmyard, my students learned and they continue to learn! To me, this is what matters most. 

Sixth Grade Projects

Farewell Feathered Friends: Southern Arizona Drought and Temperature Extremes -  Class project by Ms. Smith’s 6th grade science class

SARSEF Grand Award: 1st Place
Classroom Project: Success in Engineering 
Critical Thinking Excellence in Science and Engineering
Excellence in Scientific Research
Innovative Thought in Engineering or Science

Slow Gravity - project by Maximus Domin ‘27

SARSEF Grand Award: 2nd Place

Do geometric shapes with similar volume of a parachute ‘s canopy affect the speed of descent from deployment to landing?  

Changing the shape of a parachute canopy affects the time from  deployment to landing.  When I was testing a more basic parachute project during science class, I noticed that Da Vinci’s square shape vs my circular shape design might float differently and thereby have differing times because of their shape. I wanted to know more about this, so I decided to conduct a more formal experiment. 


5th Grade Science Fair 

 By Layla Sydow '28, Jazmin Arora '28, and Victoria Wilson '28

This year for science fair 5th graders in Mrs. DeBenedetti’s homeroom tested how pets affect people’s health.  It was a benefit being home, because it was nice to see everyone's pets on Zoom!  But we wondered about people without pets.  We sent out a survey to Middle School advisories asking various questions about if people have pets and questions about their stress level, sociality, sleep, and physical lifestyle. We put it on a Google Sheet. We analyzed the data and found out that people with pets don’t have lower stress levels, sociality, sleep and physical lifestyle. It turns out that most people have at least one pet, so it was hard to compare any differences.  If we did this again, we would send the survey to groups we knew had pets or not.  Our class won a SARSEF Grand Prize, 2nd place award!

In Mrs. Heranndez’s homeroom, the 5th graders were interested to see if animals that use echolocation are more efficient at finding food. We first talked about seeing if we could program a robot to use an ultrasonic sensor.  Then we came up with the idea to try and thwart the ultrasonic sensor instead!  We 5th graders tested some different materials and figured out, thanks to Mrs. Debenedetti’s help, that foamy bubbles can block the ultrasonic sensor. Finally, we all designed and built bubble makers to make the right kind of bubbles.  Our class won a SARSEF Grand Prize 1st place award, and a Sponsored Award for Most Original Idea!   

Fifth Grade Projects

Echolocation and Thwartation - Class project by Mrs. DeBenedetti’s 5th grade science class

SARSEF Grand Award: 1st Place
Original Idea Award

How Do Pets Affect Our Health? -  Class project by Mrs. DeBenedetti’s 5th grade science class

SARSEF Grand Award: 2nd Place


"Teaching is an invigorating practice. It provides endless opportunities to inspire others and be inspired by others."

Jennifer DeBenedetti, M.Ed.

Jennifer DeBenedetti graduated from the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University. She has been teaching in Tucson for 13 years and joined the fifth grade faculty in 2018.

"I like to think of myself as the silent ninja who guides from the side as students find joy in the art of learning. My role in this process is to inspire motivation for students to learn as they seek solutions to purposeful problems affecting our world."

Kelly Smith, M.Ed.

Kelly Smith holds an M.Ed. in School & Clinical Counseling and a B.A. in Elementary Education, both from the University of Arizona. She was appointed to The Gregory School faculty in 2020.

3231 N. Craycroft Road, Tucson, AZ 85712
Phone: (520) 327-6395
Fax: (520) 327-8276
The Gregory School is an independent, private,
non-profit 501(C)(3), coed day school for grades 5-12.