The night was cold and wet, but parents and students interested in learning how to produce high-quality science fair projects showed up at Chocachatti Elementary School anyway.
Science lab teacher and school science fair director Ruth Markham led the discussions last week. Math lab teacher Matt Goldrick, who is the elementary level district science fair director, and fifth-grade teacher Donna McCane assisted.
There have been four such nights, one a week, for parent convenience, and the teachers say attendance has ranged from 50 to 100 parents and students in grades 3-5.
The teachers of these grade levels assign some kind of science project. By fifth grade, "there's a little more expectation," Goldrick, 39, said.
To be in the science fair, students have to adhere to specifications and are expected to have done experiments using the scientific method. They are supposed to keep research notebooks and create displays.
McCane explained to parents the difference between a science experiment and a science display or research project. To perform an experiment, a student is expected to pose a problem, suggest a hypothesis, determine an experiment procedure, collect data or observations, and form a conclusion. Research on the topic should be included in the notebook, along with the data and observations.
Parents and students were encouraged to use the time to run ideas past teachers, who could determine if the proposed experiment is measurable. The teachers also helped the students and parents tweak their projects to produce better designs.
Third-grader Renee Flynt, 8, came to the event with her mother, Julie Flynt, 56, and a friend, Philip Clark, 47. Renee expressed how much she liked the opportunity. "We think it's cool because we get to find out what a variable is and how to do a science experiment," she said.
Her mother said they came "so we could learn how to do it, so she could learn how to do it."
Clark added, "We're learning how to get an A."
Fourth-grader Joseph Masotti, 9, was attending his second science night. He came, he said, "because science is an important part of our lives (and) so I can do my experiment better to learn more."
Joseph's father, Vito, 39, came "so we can share the experience," he said. "I like science. It's fun."
Joseph's project is testing which of three fruits — a lemon, an orange and a grapefruit — can produce the most electrical current. His hypothesis is it'll be the grapefruit, because it's the biggest.
Third-grader Nicolas Habeeb, 9, was with his mother, Stacey, 37. As a third-grader, Nicolas has little experience with science projects and he and his mother were looking for information about how to do one. She remembered having done them during her school days, but "times change." She and Nicolas wanted to learn "how to perfect a science project."
Nicolas was thinking ahead, too. He said he came to "learn more about stuff." And, he said, he'll be able to help his own children one day.
Nicolas' project is also food-related. "I'm going to see what popcorn can pop the most." He plans to count leftover kernels in brand name and store brand popcorn bags. His hypothesis is that it will be the brand name, " 'cause they use more butter and stuff."
Denise LaQuire, 41, said that she and her fifth-grader, Sean, 11, came "to get a little more insight, a little more help."
Sean was testing how different types of video games affect blood pressure. He suspected the game "Kingdom of Hearts" would cause blood pressure to be higher, because it is an action game, as opposed to the cognitive game "Brain Age II." He found out, though, that the opposite was true. He wondered if it was because "you're actually thinking."
Markham, 50, said she offers the science fair nights because kids love science. She does, too. "I absolutely love hands-on, minds-on science," she said. "It's been very helpful for parents." She said they walk out empowered.
Markham said parents seem to know a lot about how to work with reading and math, but "science is novel."
She said she wants to help her students apply concepts to life so they can survive in a world economy.
"These kids are going to have to be confident and innovative."