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Teacher Tools Family Science Night

Family Science Night

Submitted by Cheryl Weaver, a retired administrator and teacher in Dublin, California, with input from Susan Wijeyesekera, an elementary science specialist at Livermore Valley Charter School in Livermore, California.

Key Objective

Generate enthusiasm among students and families for the science program and science fairs by giving families a chance to explore science together.

Applicability

All grades

Description

Family Science Night is an evening of hands-on science activities for students and their families to do together. The event should include enough activities to represent many different facets of science.

Implementation

Step 1: Solicit support.

Family Science Night does require some advance planning. The first step is to solicit support.

Are there any scientific corporations or government organizations in your area? Perhaps employees could help to create science activities. At Livermore Valley Charter School, a Sandia National Laboratories program provided all of the activities and materials for Family Science Night.

If you aren't able to obtain some sort of governmental or corporate support, recruit other teachers to set up activities. If each interested teacher organizes just one activity and agrees to staff it the night of the event, preparation becomes much easier. Since we have provided activity ideas below, getting them ready is just a straightforward task of gathering supplies. Talk to other teachers and see if they are willing to help in other capacities, such as welcoming visitors or directing them where to go.

Alternatively, you could ask parent volunteers to assist with planning activities. Work with the PTA to find interested parents. The key is to stress that volunteering for this event is not a burdensome, long-term commitment. Instead, each parent could work on getting one activity ready and then staff that activity the night of the event.

Step 2: Choose activities.

Choose your activities in advance so that you can publicize them and have time to get them ready.

Below is a chart of the types of activities that teachers who are experienced with the Family Science Night tool do and do not recommend:

Recommended Not Recommended
Quick, hands-on experiments that use a short list of readily available materials Talks or presentations - Usually students are so excited to do hands-on activities that presentations will not be as well-attended
Opportunity to build or invent an item that demonstrates scientific principles Displays from outside science organizations - Because visitors may flock to hands-on activities, don't risk low attendance for organization representatives who have made a special effort to participate
Mural creation station: art supplies and large pieces of mural paper to illustrate some aspect of science, such as animals and plants living in a habitat or the solar system 

See "Resources" below for a list of many possible activities that you can create. We have suggested easy, high-impact activities that use readily available and low-cost materials.

Step 3: Plan activities based on attendants.

Make sure that you have enough activities so that families won't have to wait too long at each station to get involved.

Think about your expected attendance and how many families could participate in one activity at once. Here are some tips:

  • At a minimum: Eight hands-on activities, plus one or two murals
  • For a larger group: Livermore Valley Charter School, a school of around 600 students, has 10-12 activities each year at its Family Science Night.
  • As a crowd-control strategy, set up mural projects, where many families can participate at once.
  • When possible, set up more than one of each activity. For example, if you are doing a project, such as Bubble-ology, you could have several different jars of the same type of solution so that many families can participate at once.

Step Four: Coordinate event details.

Decide where to have the event. Consider the following:

  • Classrooms: In smaller schools, each teacher could monitor one activity in his or her classroom, and Family Science Night participants could tour each classroom.
  • One large room: In larger schools, the multi-purpose room, gym, or cafeteria might make the most sense.

Step 5: Publicize the event.

Publicize the event through the school newsletter, website, and teacher emails to their students. Make your description of the event concrete by listing some of the specific activities that families will have the chance to do. If you have held the event before, let readers know how this year's event will be different.

Recruiting multiple teachers to attend will boost the attendance of the night, since teachers are likely to encourage their students to go.

Step 6: Set up the event.

Start setting up the event a few hours before it begins. Make sure that each activity station has two volunteers to supervise the children. Do a trial run at each station to make sure that the experiment or activity is working smoothly.

Establish a welcome area with one or two volunteers to answer questions and direct visitors where to go.

Enjoy watching students, families, and staff members participate in science together!

Resources

Check out the Project Ideas section of the Science Buddies website for experiments that can be adapted as hands-on activities for Family Science Night. Here are several ideas:

Area of Science Activity Name
Aerodynamics Let's Go Fly a Kite
Applied Mechanics Which Simple Machines Do I Use the Most?
Biotechnology Do-It-Yourself DNA
Chemistry Bubble-ology
Civil Engineering Building the Tallest Tower
Materials Engineering Getting Critical Over Colloids
Physics Roller Coaster Marbles: How Much Height to Loop the Loop?
Plant Biology How Many Seeds Do Different Types of Fruits Produce?
Sports Science Think Fast!
Zoology M&M Survival Challenge

Benefits

The benefits of Family Science Night are:

  • Parents will observe that your school science program is hands-on and inquiry-based, yet fun and educational at the same time.
  • Interaction between parents and children is fostered as they enjoy fun educational experiences together, not just doing homework.
  • Students gain a sense of school community outside school hours.
  • Parents and students will see that science is fun.