PURCHASE LINE: Science students learning life lessons with ecosystems
April 25, 2014 11:00 AM
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PURCHASE LINE — Seventh-grade students at Purchase Line High School had an opportunity recently to dig into the world of ecosystems during their environmental science class with science teacher Susan Marino.

Academic seventh-grade students are placed in two science classes their first year. Students take life science with science teacher Larry Peterson, and are also scheduled to take environmental science with Marino. During the third nine weeks, Marino had the students make their own ecosystems using rinsed two-liter soda bottles (brought in by the students), lizard litter, gravel, soil and live plants.

[PHOTO: Austin Myers, a seventh-grader, took a close-up look at a Siamese fighting fish (also known as betta fish) in his group’s ecosystem at Purchase Line High School. (Submitted photo/Purchase Line High School)]

The students this semester heard about the project from their classmates in the fall, so Marino replaced many of the plants and creatures herself so the students could experience the carbon cycle firsthand. Many of the fish and amphibians purchased for the fall semester died before the project began this semester.

The various animals that were used in the experiment were anole lizards, aquarium frogs, snails, luna moth, fire-bellied toads, betta fish and guppies.

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When asked about the animals, David Fyock said, “I think taking care of the animals was the most fun.”

When asked why the project was given to the students, Marino said, “The project was assigned for the students to create, maintain and study soda bottle ecosystems.”

The ecosystem project focused on a few main concepts including carbon and nitrogen cycles, observation skills, the flow of energy and learning the difference between biotic and abiotic factors.

Marino said, “I wanted to take time for this project to keep student interest when studying ecology concepts.”

This project also helped the students to study and learn vocabulary and concepts in a kinesthetic manner.

Marino said, “The purpose of the project was to give the students something concrete to apply vocabulary terms and concepts to which I hope will be helpful on future standardized tests.” 

“We’re learning about the environment,” said Timothy Ball, but he admitted that what he least enjoys about the project is “cleaning it.” 

When asked what he observed, Austin Myers, a seventh-grader said, “The lizards’ ribs pop out whenever he eats, and the lizard grew whenever his skin fell off.” 

Another group observed a guppy fish. Chelsea Wilshire said, “The elodea is helping the fish breathe.”

Wilshire added, “The fire-bellied toad likes a lot of water.” 

Lane Chilcote said, “My favorite part was learning how (the animals) survive and what they eat.”

One group had a luna moth cocoon in their ecosystem. Many of the students were anxious in waiting for the cocoon to metamorphose, and the moth’s timing to exit its cocoon ended up being perfect. One day during Marino’s environmental science class, in the last four minutes, the moth transformed.

Marino said, “All of the students ran to the back of the room because they were so excited. I have to admit, I was excited, too.”

“Getting to see the moth coming out of its cocoon” was most exciting to Breanna Behrendt. “Afterward, he was just sitting there.”

Many students learn by doing and by taking a break from lecture to “do,” Marino had many students intrigued with ecology concepts in the classroom and many of the students enjoyed the project.

When asked about the class and their ecosystems, Marino said, “I enjoy their interest and comments about the project. They did a very good job when creating the carbon and nitrogen cycle diagrams. They were very precise.”

Heritage conference events

Every year, there are five competitions in April that schools that are part of the Heritage Conference participate in. The competitions are the impromptu speech competition, the math competition, the science competition, the current events competition and the cook-off competition.

[Alternate photo, click to view: Tyler Nunez, Adam Farmery and Evan Ober, from left, all seniors, and Cassandra Boring, a junior, represented Purchase Line High School in the Heritage Conference Current Events competition April 10 at Purchase Line. They earned a second-place finish. (Submitted photo/Purchase Line High School)]

The Heritage impromptu speech competition was held on April 8 at Penns Manor High School. For the competition, each student had six minutes to choose one of the speech prompts available and craft their speech, whether it be solely in their head or on paper. Once students leave the room (taking nothing with them), they wait their turn to go on stage, trying to gather their thoughts for their speech. When delivering the speech, everything from eye contact to volume is judged. Speeches have no minimum length, but the maximum is three minutes and 30 seconds. This year, Purchase Line’s team consisted of senior Brooke Temchulla (who was last year’s MVP) and sophomore Brianne Guzman, who were both on the team last year, and two new members were junior Gregory L. Boring and freshman Jordan Huey. The adviser was English teacher Sylvia Mahaffey. Ligonier Valley placed first and Purchase Line came in fifth. Boring won the title of MVP this year.

The math competition was held at Marion Center Area High School on April 8. This year’s team from Purchase Line was composed of seniors Alec Sunderlin, Sophia Smith, Sydney Baker, Megan Hudson and Zachary Jennings (who was named MVP). The competition started with an independent 20-question test. Students participated in another test of math definitions, then worked on group tests pertaining to probability and geometry. Also, there were Ken-Ken and Mensa math/ logic puzzles. Purchase Line placed fifth, with Homer Center coming in first.

“The competition is a good experience for students to interact with other students from other schools who are good at math,” said math teacher Andrew Sleppy, who was the math team’s adviser.

For the Heritage science competition, held at Ligonier Valley High School on April 9, students participated in various competitive activities. One activity was a “quiz bowl”-type tournament where each person had a buzzer and had to answer various science-related questions. There was also a written test, taken by each individual, and then the students had to put together an experiment. Purchase Line’s team consisted of seniors Anna Harkleroad and Thomas Brady; juniors Kira Smith and Tabitha Yates; and sophomore Jonah Nichols. Science teacher Michael Thom serves as their adviser. Their experiment was to find out how much water one loses during respiration daily.

“We hypothesized that we could collect moisture by breathing into an aluminum foil container that was cooled by ice,” said Nichols, on how they conducted the experiment. The experiment went well, ending in a score of 15.5 out of 20. Purchase Line placed second, overall, with Saltsburg coming in first.

“It was an interesting experience to see the levels of the other schools regarding the sciences,” said Smith.

Purchase Line hosted the Heritage current events competition on April 10. The coordinator of the event was social studies teacher Melinda Knapp. The competition began with a collective written test, and then students separated into two other activities. One activity was answering the multiple choice questions on a smart board. The smart board had current events-related questions where you had to answer each correctly. When one was answered incorrectly, the students had to start over. The points earned were whichever number you were on when the five minutes ran out. The other activity was “Faces in the News.” Faces appeared on a projector and the students had to write down the name of the face. When students weren’t in either of those, they were in the library to work on a biography poster of a person they chose. Out of the participating schools, Purchase Line’s team placed second, behind Homer-Center. The team’s members this year were junior Cassandra Boring and seniors Adam Farmery, Tyler Nu￱ez and Evan Ober.

The team was coached by social studies teacher Matthew Falisec. He said, “Purchase Line did a great job in the competition this year. We had only one returning player and the team still earned a second-place finish. We normally do well in the current events competition and this year was no exception.”

Purchase Line hosted the Heritage cook-off competition on April 9. Family and consumer sciences teacher Jessica Subich was the coordinator of the event. Only three teams could compete at a time, but they all still had the same amount of time (one hour and 45 minutes) and the same challenge — to create a balanced meal out of the items from the mystery basket: eggs for protein, zucchini for the vegetable, and apples and bananas for fruits. To complete the meal, they had to use a variety of scratch components to round it out.

Purchase Line was in the first round, the team consisting of junior Skyla Toth and seniors Morgan Scalese, Dylan Tyger and Brianna Riva. Rebecca Donahey, a senior, was the alternate for the team.

After they created the meal, they presented to the two judges, Nancy Baker (owner of Nancy’s Restaurant in Hillsdale for almost 30 years) and Peg Mumau (worked at Nancy’s for about 17 years and is well-known in the area for making and decorating cakes), with a formal place setting.

“We made zucchini oatmeal whole wheat waffles, with a brown sugar, banana and apple glaze,” Donahey told the judges as the team presented their plate. Saltsburg placed first in the competition.

Though they didn’t win, the participating students from Purchase Line still had fun in the competition.

“I like (cooking) because it keeps me busy … and it’s fun,” Toth said. She was named MVP for the team.

Subich said, “(The cook-off) is hectic to host, but it’s also really rewarding and fun to see the results of the mystery basket concept. I thought using eggs for the protein would add to the challenge, because the protein element had been chicken for the past few years. No one chose to make anything I’d had in mind when I selected the mystery ingredients.”

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