February 7, 2013: Outside it was snowing and radio reports spoke about blizzard conditions on the roads. Inside some 400 children, parents, and teachers were enjoying an evening of science fair projects and science activities, culminating in a standing room only program of science demonstrations with audience participation that provoked wonder, laughter, and cheers from the audience. ISI faculty members Golden Apple Fellows Bill Grosser and Jim Effinger worked their considerable magic with a little help from H2O, some dry ice, and cornstarch, among other materials and props.
Teresa de Jesus-Silva, 1st grade teacher at Nightingale and a member of the Science Committee that planned the program, described the inspiration for the evening. “We had our first science fair and science fair projects and wanted to exhibit them for the parents, and we thought why not have some science activities for them as well? Our principal (Meg Kouretsos) suggested we do a Family Science Night. We’d learned activities last summer at the Inquiry Science Institute and thought we would share those same activities with the parents. We’d never done a science night before, but I had organized nights devoted to literacy and math, so we had a template for the science night. Our goal for the evening was to get kids excited about learning science and to see that science is all around them.”
Emily Cozzi, 1st grade teacher, suggested that each activity be facilitated by a team of one primary teacher and one upper elementary teacher. “We decided to do it this way so that the older students could also visit their teachers and bring their younger siblings with.” This arrangement also allowed the nine iTEAM teachers to co-facilitate an activity from the Golden Apple summer program with a colleague who hadn’t participated in it. Twelve classrooms were open, and parents and students could choose from that many activities for each of two half hour sessions. Some activities were so popular that people had to be turned away at the door.
Upper grades teacher Joe Estela recounted, “I would have to say that Family Science Night did have an impact on the students’ perception of science. At least a dozen students approached me in the hallway the following day to tell me how much fun they had and how they really like science now because it’s a lot of fun. Colleagues were impressed at how well the whole night turned out. They were very impressed with the level of work that the students put forth in their science fair projects, the enthusiasm the kids showed for the activities and the number of families that still turned out, despite the bad weather. I feel from the conversations that I’ve had with my colleagues, that their idea of what science class used to be and what it might be in the future is changing. The idea of “Read this passage from the book, answer those questions at the end of the chapter, and then watch me do this demonstration in front of the class,” might be fading away. I know that a lot of teachers don’t like to teach science because it requires a lot of preparation and there is always the fear that the students will ask a question that they don’t know the answer to. But, I think that with the leadership of the iTeam, we can help to change that mentality here at Nightingale.”
Mr. Estela also reported increased student interest in science in his classes. “I have seen a change in some of my students since science night. I have one student named Ivan who was an average student in science class prior to science night, but since then has shown an excitement in my class that wasn’t there before. He has gone from a “C” to an “A” since science night, and he even watches the Science Channel at home. He is always reporting new things that he has learned on his own time to me every day. I also have a student named Oscar who participated in my Moon crater simulation. He told me that for his birthday present, he wanted to ask his parents for a telescope so he could become an astronomer and hopefully an astronaut in the future. I have to admit that made me feel really good.”
Primary teacher and iTEAM member Maretzy Berrera observed, “students have been so excited about the whole process of science night. Every time we do science in the room, they ask can we do this next time at science night? One of our goals for the night was to spark a love for science in the students. I truly believe that we achieved this goal.”
Ms. Cozzie reported, “We were amazed to see so many kids standing on their seats with excitement for science in the auditorium! A month later my students are still talking about it. We are mixing liquids in science and they are referring back to the demonstrations in the auditorium.”
The children weighed in as well. Elias said, “Science Night was funny and great because they mixed solids and liquids and did cool things! It was funny because they mixed solids and liquids. Then they ate them and gas came out of their nose.” Isaac added, ” Science Night was awesome because we got to do science stuff, do real experiments, and see real experiments!”
Ms. de Jesus-Silva said, “I was impressed that so many fathers showed up to participate. And at the community session, the science show that Bill Grosser and Jim Effinger of ISI put on, you could feel the excitement in the air.” Ms. Cozzie added, “I was talking to a parent who has three young boys at Nightingale. She said her husband was dreading coming but always comes to the stuff at school to support her and the boys. She said he had just as much fun as the boys and cannot wait until the next Family Science Night.”
When asked what advice she would give other teachers wanting to create a Family Science Night, Ms. de Jesus-Silva stressed the importance of teamwork. “Everyone pitched in. This is an intense program to put together. You need a good working team with everyone contributing. We had a science committee of 6, plus those teachers who are on the iTEAM. Teachers who were facilitating a science activity had to select the activity and get their own materials. In the end, 45 teachers stayed for the evening. Nightingale is a large school, so I would suggest that it’s better to open a smaller number of classrooms for activities so that you have more people in each session.”
One of the high points for the children was the science kit they got to take home to perform a surface tension experiment their teachers had learned in the ISI program. The kits contained a pipette, a penny, a magnifying glass, a notebook, a pencil and the science activity instructions. 275 kits were distributed.
Speaking of next year, Ms. de Jesus-Silva said they have already made a connection with another school that did a Family Science Night this year, and they plan to trade activities with them for next year. Ms. Berrera continued, “One of my only concerns is how will we top this next year when this year was so great. This year we had 185 families. I predict that next year we will see even more!”
Nightingale Elementary School is located at 5250 S Rockwell in Chicago and is a CPS neighborhood school of approximately 1400 students.
You can learn more about Golden Apple’s Inquiry Science Institute here: http://www.goldenapple.org/inquiry-science-institute