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A new type of virtual science fair: Crane Middle School tries out Kumospace, thanks to grant

A new type of virtual science fair: Crane Middle School tries out Kumospace, thanks to grant

By Sisko J. Stargazer Sun Staff Writer

When Kaitlin McGill, science department chair for Crane Middle School (CMS), was asked to put on her first science fair, she opted to think a little more outside the box. Having anticipated COVID continuing to be a challenge and wanting to offer something more comfortable for introverted students, McGill chose to do the fair virtually – but not through Zoom.

“The feedback I got from students was that they were really bored of Zoom,” she said. “I noticed this year that I said, ‘We’re doing science fair’ and we got some ‘Ugh, science fair?’ and I wanted to change that.”

McGill is part of a fellowship through CommunityShare, a platform that connects educators with community members to collaborate on projects.

In Yuma, it’s been introduced by the Yuma Arizona Business and Education Coalition (Yuma ABEC). Through the fellowship, McGill meets up with teachers from Tucson and Yuma online, works toward a goal of partnering educators with community and has an opportunity to receive grants.

After encountering it in a professional development opportunity, McGill wanted to use Kumospace, a video chat platform featuring immersive sound and rooms. McGill received a $500 grant to use Kumospace and when she put it to use for the fair at the end of January, students loved it.

“They chose their own tables and set up their virtual space the way they want it,” she said. “Kumospace has sounds online so students can hang out and feel comfortable. I had one student tell me that he went in to play chess with his dad beforehand. When they were able to decorate their own space, I noticed the students really calmed down.”

McGill had used the same categories as the Yuma County Science and Engineering Expo, separating students from those categories into separate rooms. These students, who are part of the Gowan Achievement Program at CMS, were then able to decorate their rooms. Layouts for rooms allowed different objects to be placed – one room, for example, had some potted plants and a dog that, when clicked on, would bark.

Participants also had the chance to turn on their cameras and were visible as little squares in the room as they “walked” around. The closer other squares were to a speaking square, the better they could be heard.

Students and families weren’t the only ones to experience this either.

With the help of Heidi Jones from Yuma ABEC, McGill was able to bring in a diverse group of judges from the community: some judges were teachers but others worked in water utility, APS and even the Yuma Sun.

“My hope was to get people in the community to bridge that gap and have students see that,” she said. “The community was so supportive. I even had one judge call me and say ‘I have COVID but since it’s online, I’m going to do it anyway.’

“I had 121 people come over two days. Parents, students and obviously, I had people from my district come, but we also had people from Apple and NASA come just to watch.”

All in all, the fair was quite a success for McGill. One of the reasons she had it online was because of the Omicron variant and she had higher participation since Kumospace allowed quarantined students to be part of the action. CMS Principal Ryan Tyree agreed, sharing that at that time, over 100 students were quarantined due to a surge in COVID-19 cases.

“In alignment with our school goal for innovative practices and technology, this year’s virtual science fair was a success,” he said. “...I am appreciative of our staff and their network of people who made this opportunity happen.”

McGill concluded that the students had a great time trying a new approach to science fairs and that the virtual experience would benefit those who would go on to participate in the Yuma County Science and Engineering Expo.

“I noticed that most students are afraid to present, but I also knew that if they did well, they would go to county and present on Zoom,” she said. “It was a fun evening and kids were talking about it the next day.”

One student in particular also shone that day. Chase Miller was selected as the school winner and one judge wrote an email about how impressed they were that Miller had gone above and beyond in his role, helping other classmates.

“In my mind a traditional science fair would have scientists, but with community people they could also recognize soft skills,” McGill said.

What she especially valued about having community members judge was that students could learn more from them on other skills like presenting and engaging with people.

After the fair, McGill made sure to celebrate Miller and the other students who placed with ribbons.

Sisko J. Stargazer can be reached at 928-539-6849 or

ABEC Yuma County Locations

Centennial Middle School

2650 W 20th St, Yuma, AZ 85364

(928) 373-3300

Crane Middle School

4450 W 32nd St, Yuma, AZ 85364

(928) 373-3200

Castle Dome Middle School

2353 Otondo Dr, Yuma, AZ 85365

(928) 502-7300

Fourth Avenue Jr. High School

450 S 4th Ave, Yuma, AZ 85364

(928) 502-7000

Gila Vista Jr. High School

2245 S Arizona Ave, Yuma, AZ 85365

(928) 502-7100

Gowan Science Academy

1020 S Avenue C, Yuma, AZ 85364

(928) 539-1200

Ron Watson Middle School

9851 E 28th St, Yuma, AZ 85365

(928) 502-7400

R Pete Woodard Junior High School

2250 S 8th Ave, Yuma, AZ 85364

(928) 502-7200

San Luis Middle School

1135 Main St, San Luis, AZ 85349

(928) 627-6920

Southwest Junior High School

963 8th Ave, San Luis, AZ 85349

(928) 627-6580