Saturday, February 22, 2014

Budding Scientists in Action

Last Friday, the students in grades 1-5 participated in the elementary school science fair, or the school's annual Science Showcase. Growing up in the U.S., I remember participating in only one science fair, in the fifth grade (my first full school year in the U.S.). My mom, who had been a nurse in Taiwan, but who hardly spoke any English, helped me make a model of the human heart out of kitchen cleaning and art supplies. It was beautiful and awed my teacher and classmates. I, too, was impressed and amazed by the model and my mom's creativity and ingenuity. It was actually fun to work on something like that together. But now, as a parent, I hear horror stories about science fairs -- how stressful it is working on and completing those projects, and how, many times, the parents actually end up doing most of the work for their kids. Luckily, I had not experienced any of these stresses as a parent while in the U.S. because my kid entered elementary school only last year.
Science Showcase program.
And lucky for me again, even though my son was part of the school's Science Showcase this year, I was not expected to, and did not have to, do any of the work at all; I hadn't even heard about the showcase until about two weeks prior to the event. Instead, the students worked on their projects at school, from start to finish. Each student keeps a science journal of all the science topics they learn about, so when it was time to choose topics for their projects, they were able to look through their journals for favorite topics they wanted to work on. Each student was paired with one or two partners. Then, with the help of their teachers and the elementary science coach, the students learned enough about their topics to talk about them, put together their project displays, and wrote short discussions on their topics. Some projects, including the one my son and his partner worked on, also had a demonstration portion. My son's class even put together written invitations to high school students to view their projects and demonstrations, as a rehearsal of sorts to prepare for the actual day. The high school students then gave written feedback to the little kids, encouraging and supporting them. It was really fun for everyone.
The note my son got from one of the high school students who saw his demonstration.
Last Friday, parents of the elementary students were invited to attend the Science Showcase, during which they were able to see all the projects the students worked on and see the students' demonstrations, including their own child(ren)'s. The students spent the afternoon the day before the showcase setting up for the event, and the results were quite impressive.

The event began with the students stationed at their projects, and with parents milling around, viewing projects, listening to the students talk about their topics, and watching demonstrations. Then a 12th-grade student talked about his love for science and his career aspiration to work as an electrical engineer. He also created a few science demonstrations involving electromagnetism, which captured the elementary students' attention. Then a few elementary students in grades 2, 3, and 4 talked about their love of science. And let me tell you, the Thai students were great at public speaking. The one American kid who gave a speech, on the other hand, was not very good. The girl who gave her speech after he did blew him out of the water. Even her English was better than his!
The set-up. The purple partitions on each side sectioned off each class from each other.
The students at their stations.
My son's class' section of the room. The girl standing by the table in the middle was his partner.
My son's project was called "The Pencil Trick," which involved balancing a pencil on its point.
Anyway...there also was a performance by the elementary school choir, which sang a song written by the music teacher. The elementary students were given time to walk around and see other students' projects. My son was fascinated by the fourth- and fifth-grade projects involving crayfish and acids and bases, respectively. The event ended with the principal giving the closing and giving accolades to the science coach for all his hard work because this school year is his last at the school. (He and his wife are returning home to New Mexico after four years in Thailand, a year earlier than expected because they unexpectedly received job offers back home that they couldn't pass up. The science coach will be in a position similar to the one he is in now, but at a regional level, partnering with science education companies to get their programs into schools. His wife, who is currently a Biology teacher at our school and has been so helpful to my husband this year, was previously at a nonprofit as a researcher and will be returning to the same organization working in science education. They both refuse to return to the classroom as teachers in the U.S., and I can't say I blame them.)
All the students listening to the rest of the program.
An elementary student making a speech.
The high school student doing is demonstration.
The elementary school choir.
It was a great event. The students worked hard and did a great job, and were so proud of themselves. I especially liked that the students worked on these projects themselves without parental involvement, actually researching and learning about their topics, and were able to explain them to their audience. Best of all, it was a great opportunity for students to work together, learn about other topics, and support one another.
"Science art."
My son's class looking at other projects.
Close-up of a crayfish.
One last demonstration: How come a balloon placed on a bed of 100 nails with five heavy books on top of it doesn't pop? My son asked me about it the next day, but he actually figured out the answer himself!

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