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Main Street sixth-grader earns four-star rating for soil research

Cary Ashby • May 22, 2017 at 3:00 PM

Annabelle Ortner is an elite science researcher.

The Main Street Intermediate School sixth-grade student received a four-star, superior rating for her project submitted to the GLOBE program. Titled “Why doesn’t grass grow on our playground?,” it was one of 146 that was submitted to the panel of international scientists who scored each project and asked students questions online. 

“Her dad (Aaron) and I are so proud of her,” said a beaming Lori Ortner. 

“She has always been into science since she was very little. She’s also been lucky to have a lot of great science teachers,” she added.

Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) is an international science and education program that provides students and the worldwide public with the opportunity to participate in data collection and the scientific process. Fifth-grade science teacher Marcy Burns, who assisted Annabelle Ortner, said the collected data helps scientists, NASA officials and students with their research.

Ortner’s project also was awarded special badges for collaboration, community impact and exploring STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers.

“Annabelle received the highest ranking you can get. She received four stars for the work she did,” said Burns, who helped Ortner learn protocols designed by GLOBE scientists to collect and test soil samples. 

The Main Street student said she wanted to learn why the grass at the school playground didn’t grow since it looks bad.

“I saw something in the community that needed help,” she added. “Mr. (Dan) Bauman was so happy with me that I chose that (topic) because he doesn’t like that area either.”

Her mother is thankful for the assistance Burns gave her daughter.

“She wouldn’t have had this opportunity otherwise,” she said.

The 2017 GLOBE International Virtual Science Symposium was for students around the world. A total of 146 projects were submitted from Africa, Europe, Asia, South America and North America. Burns said only four schools in the United States had projects that earned four-state ratings.

All the four-star projects were placed in a drawing for funding to attend the 21st GLOBE annual meeting and student research symposium in New Town, Conn. in July.

“She’s going to be rubbing elbows with 29 other international students,” Burns said. 

Ortner and the other students will perform research on the Outer Land and then present that information and their original projects at the conference. Ortner’s project was selected to be funded in a Hang-out live webinar that happened May 15.

In addition to receiving assistance from Burns, Ortner enlisted Chad Stang from the Huron Soil and Water Conservation District as a mentor for collecting more samples and understanding the results, as well as the soil characteristics on the playground.

“He told me the potassium in the soil was very good. Then Mrs. Burns found potassium can soak up a lot of nutrients,” said Ortner, who enjoyed testing the levels of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus.

Ultimately, she may need to do more research. While she found out the playground soil can’t absorb water well, her hypothesis about boys playing on the grass compacting the soil and her results were inconclusive.

“It drains really fast,” Ortner said. “It (stomping on the grass) pushes down the soil more and more, crushing the roots.”

The GLOBE program contributes meaningfully to the understanding of the Earth system and global environment. Announced by the U.S. government on Earth Day in 1994, it launched worldwide the next year.

“With GLOBE, students learn the practices of science through hands-on investigations in their own communities, sparking their curiosity and interest in science. This often leads to inquiries that help solve real-world problems and further understanding of our global environment,” Burns said.

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