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Young Scientists See and Believe


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"If children grow up as scientists, if they see themselves doing the work of scientists, then they are more likely to be inclined to become scientists," says Rebecca McKenzie-Appling, Ed.D. "I believe that it is critical to the future of our nation to grow scientists. Scientists do experiments, scientists get their hands into their work, scientists record their data, and scientists communicate their results both in writing and orally -- all of these things are part of our Science Spectacular."

Leaphart Elementary School's Science Spectacular gives students in Columbia, South Carolina, an opportunity to see that science is not a separate entity, but highly connected to reading, writing, and math. It is an evening of projects, experiments, and presentations. As the school's principal, McKenzie-Appling has been excited by the response of the students and their families.

"Within a year's time this event has grown. I can judge that by the number of pizza slices that we served for supper each night -- a little over 300 slices last year, and around 570 slices this year!" she reports. "Learning occurs when children are engaged. Offering them and their families an opportunity to engage in science in fun ways, hopefully, ties that excitement back to the classroom."

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Another indicator of the growth of the Science Spectacular is the impressive development in the student projects. McKenzie-Appling reports that fourth and fifth graders, in particular, showed a much better grasp and understanding of science process skills in the second year of the event.

"This venue, our Science Spectacular, provides a purposeful opportunity to celebrate and share the students' learning not only with their own families, but with everyone else in our school community as well," she observed. "The display of the projects certainly offers a wonderful model for our younger students; one can better aspire to excellence if one knows what excellence looks like!"

The Science Spectacular has featured an engineering "dynamic duo," a married couple with children who attend the school, which has taught the students about the physics and chemistry of engineering. The engineers work for the department of transportation, and their presentations have given students hands-on experience with dams, water, and the creation of cement. Presentations like theirs show the representation of women in fields like engineering in a memorable way, an important dividend that isn't overlooked by Heather Suzanne Rogers, a teacher for the academically gifted program at Leaphart.

"My most rewarding moment from our first science night was the robotics team from the middle school," recalled Rogers. "Almost all of the presenters were former students of mine who had channeled their love of LEGOS into the creation of a competitive LEGO robotics team. Seeing them share their knowledge and enthusiasm with the students at Leaphart was an inspirational moment."

Staff and family members, businesses, the district science coordinator, and others rallied to make the first Science Spectacular a positive experience for all. Teachers created class science experiments to share, and volunteers judged science fair projects, manned stations, and read great science literature to the children. Science coach Jeanne McKinney's involvement in this year's event brought about some improvements and the creation of two distinct parts: the science fair, which centered around the competing student projects, and a science night.

"Educators are often encouraged to integrate the various subjects taught, which is more aligned to real-world application of learning," McKinney told Education World. "Our students' science projects displayed their application of reading, math, science, and often, as they gathered background information, history. The family science evening was a showcase of their learning, but also of the broad spectrum that science permeates."

McKinney's science night included pizza, dessert, and a variety of science sessions. Family members made inference cans, launched chemistry rockets, and found out how many books could be stacked on top of an egg. A Van de Graaff generator made their hair sprawl, and they stood inside large bubbles! Via computer, the students simulated an owl pellet dissection, matched their force and motion, measured their own respiration, and generated a graph from temperatures that they "probed."

"There was the quieter side of science, too, as students selected pictures and created a personal Haiku or were thematically engaged in a science storytelling with activities," added McKinney. "Participants of all ages found themselves surrounded by scientific thinking."

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