Fun, Discovery, and Community Characterize Elementary Science Nights

After some long absences due to COVID, the school communities of Brackett, Dallin, and Bishop were delighted to see the return of science/STEM nights this spring. The March 24 Brackett STEM Night, organized by the school STEM Committee, was a joint event that paired activities with the 4th and 5th grade Science Fair. The Science Fair showcased 58 projects done by 89 students. At the beginning of the season, STEM Committee members visit the classrooms to explain how each project should answer a question and have a hypothesis about something the young scientists hope to discover. The students choose the topics and may work in groups of two or three if they choose. Most of the projects are done at home.

Prior to STEM Night, the students presented their work to their classmates and then the display boards were available for the attendees to view. As always, there was great variety in the questions and projects. This year students explored how different colored light affects mold growth on bread, asked whether the “five second rule” for food matters, and tried to determine which packing materials work best to protect items, for example.

At STEM Night, parent volunteers in the STEM Committee joined with other school committees including the Brackett Green Team and the 5th Grade Committee, along with outside organizations such as the Mystic River Watershed Association and Girl Scout Troop 82106 (seventh grade students), to introduce attendees to different STEM activities. Perennial favorites such as Touch a (sheep) Brain! and Make an LED Nightlight were on hand along with new activities such as playing with dry ice, building straw rockets, and learning how to build earthquake safe structures with marshmallows, toothpicks, and jello. Nature’s Way of Handling Stormwater was presented collaboratively by the Green Team and the Watershed Association. The Colors of STEM posters highlighted the diversity of individuals in STEM fields. In general, the students had a chance, in the words of STEM Committee member and event organizer Scott Uebelhart, “ get messy, light things up, play math games, and generally have fun across the activities and demonstrations.”

Dr. Uebelhart estimates that there were about 500 attendees in total, and it was especially fun this year as due to COVID, there were many parents and students who were attending a STEM Night for the first time. He considers the event a big success and states that “...most importantly this event gives students a taste of the fun and excitement that many of us feel about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math–with some 3D printed Art too!”

The Dallin Science Expo, held on March 29, is a key event for the school community. This year 53 students presented 33 projects, each described on a tri-fold poster and accompanied by whatever props were needed. All grades are encouraged to take part. Participation is voluntary and the young scientists are asked to either focus on the engineering design process to invent new solutions to problems in the community/world or use the scientific method to answer a question by conducting an experiment. They may work in teams of up to four students and across grades. K-2 students may work with a parent or adult.

The projects explored a variety of topics–from bubbles to rocks to laundry detergent to Artificial Intelligence. Examples include Animal Activity in Arlington, Cool Clouds, and The Principles of Electromagnetism. A few projects, such as Will kids memorize the dance moves more accurately than adults? got the attendees moving. The young people enjoyed sharing their work with the community.

Attendance was strong, and Dallin PTO STEAM Team co-leader Tracy Callahan reports that everyone was excited to be there. She goes on to say, “For me, it’s really wonderful to see the students pursue a project of interest and then have a chance to share that with the community. I’m always impressed by both the projects……that the students do and the way parents and caregivers support their children while not taking over the projects. It’s always clear that the students are doing the work and making the posters.”

The Bishop Science Night included student work and seven live demonstrations run by volunteers. Twenty posters were presented by young scientists in grades Kindergarten through five. Grade five teachers were especially supportive, and encouraged their students to present posters that used all the science knowledge they had learned over the years. A few crowd favorites include studying light, the physics of soccer, metal plating and turning pennies into gold, removing the color from popsicle sticks, and growing bacteria on agar plates. The variety of the topics really showcased the students’ interests. The presenters were on hand to discuss their research and discoveries and attendees could leave comments for the scientists beside their posters.

The demonstrations, led by volunteer parents and science aficionados, took place at the same time. Favorites included marshmallow building, color chromatography, tin foil boats, balloon kebabs, and making kaleidoscopes. Spot, the robot dog, was present to draw pictures of students. The crowd cheered heartedly for over 50 creative entries in the egg drop. Bishop Assistant Principal Eva Liner was kept busy dropping the eggs from a ladder in the quest for the most protective contraption. After multiple rounds, a first grade student won with an amazing device. The evening closed with certificates and Scientist pins handed out to all students who presented posters.

Like the school communities at Brackett and Dallin, the Bishop Science Night is strongly supported by one and all and is described as a time to “Share the love for science, our experiments, and knowledge with the community while having a lot of fun!” There is a strong belief that “All students can be scientists” because “Science Rocks!