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"SMART" Night Builds Interest in Science, Math, and Relevant Technology


"We believe that our event works because it centers on one practice: providing educational opportunities using manipulatives commonly found in the household," Ginger A. Baggette told Education World. "While base ten blocks, laptops, and Unifix cubes are all wonderful learning tools, let's face it -- most of our kids won't have these at home. Why not provide experiences for the students and parents that they can repeat at home or in their own environment? This way, we double the chance that they will do so."

Third graders and their families reinforce basic math facts with decks of cards.

Last March, Delmae Heights Elementary School in Florence, South Carolina, held its second annual Science, Math and Relevant Technology (SMART) Night. The event is designed to build community by bringing parents, students, teachers, and others together for food and activities. By choosing activities that contain an element of fun, Baggette, who is the school's mathematics coach, and her colleagues also hope to promote a love of science, math, and technology.

"As the night unfolded, it was obvious that both parents and students alike were impressed and eager to take part," reported Baggette. "I am always intrigued by the parents as they come. Some don't want to leave when we are ready to close the doors!"

In one classroom, students made "oobleck," and the floor, desks, and even some children's faces were covered in corn starch. In another, Baggette witnessed a parent making shapes with a so-called "mysterious substance." Although the parent was flour-coated, her creation was beautiful. Powerful conversations between parents and children were overheard in the estimation station.

"I remember walking into a third grade classroom and listening in on a lesson that a young student was participating in with her seventy-eight-year-old grandmother (who is her guardian)," Baggette recalled. "The grandmother and child were learning about sound and pitch. I watched as the two talked with one another through paper towel rolls secured with balloons at one end. The grandmother's well-worn hands gently guided her granddaughter's hands along the surface of the balloon as she spoke into the roll. It was quite touching to see."

Making "oobleck" is a messy business!

This experience was followed by a rich dialogue that addressed where the grandmother and child would encounter pitch in the real world. Moments such as this give Baggette confidence that SMART Night does enhance the students' perceptions of science and other subjects.

"While we have fantastic staff members who always work hard for our ultimate goal of student achievement, on SMART Night, we really pull together as a family," Baggette said. "From teachers to custodial staff, there was input from all and what seemed to be a shared belief that this was an important community building event. It made me proud to see teams of teachers decorating, pulling out manipulatives, and preparing. We worked like a well-oiled machine."

Changes occur with each subsequent SMART Night to make the activity more effective. Because parents who have children in both the elementary and primary grades currently must select between those sessions, the decision has been made to hold two events next year. One will focus on the primary level, and the other will address the elementary grades.

"Due to the success of the event, we have also decided to hold one SMART Night in the fall and another in the spring. By doing that, we feel that we will foster an even greater bond with our community," added Baggette.

The first SMART Night included math, science, and technology, while the second also featured reading activities. Baggette has found that this progressive approach has worked well for her program.

"If I were to give advice to an educator who wants to tackle an event such as SMART Night, I would suggest starting with one or two subjects only. For example, a simple math night or reading night might get the ball rolling," she advised. "And, as with anything, it will get better over time."