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Family Science Night: Building a Community of Support for Science

Cathy Klinesteker, Co-Director for FOSS California Professional Development, Lawrence Hall of Science
September 03, 2010 | FOSS in Schools

Top image: Joy of Teaching/Joy of Learning for budding construction engineers (with oobleck still on their hands)

Seven great science teachers in the Coachella Unified School District developed and delivered a plan to bring family science nights to their schools. They sold food, invited a magician to close the evening program, and opened their classrooms to hundreds of families who built electric circuits, explored the properties of oobleck, built ramps for rolling marbles, engineered amazing structures made of wildly whimsical solid objects, experimented with mixtures and solutions to their hearts' content, and engaged in many more wonderful science activities. Excitement, joy, and sharing across generations was the order of the evening!

They were all teaching FOSS in their classrooms and wanted to showcase that kind of hands-on science excitement for their students' families. They used FOSS activities, FOSS extensions, or related hands-on activities that parents and children of all ages could do together. Classrooms were designated for a specific grade level, but siblings also participated. When children finished the activity at their own grade level, often showing parents how it worked if they had prior experience with it in class, they visited other grade levels as time allowed.

Many parents didn't speak English, and most had very little experience with science in school. But amazing things happened. One father was so excited that he brought his family to the next family science night in the district, at a school across town from his children's school, to do it all again with more understanding and more family members! A mom with several small children in tow wrote down the recipe for oobleck to do at home with her children and their neighborhood friends. A grandpa watched and smiled as his confident grandson built a circuit, and then, tentatively at first, but with growing enthusiasm, built his own circuit under the loving direction of his grandson. Three kindergarten girls focused intently on building castles for the princess stories in their minds and hearts.

Everyone got raffle tickets for every activity, for helping someone, and for anything else the teacher leaders deemed worthy. The raffle and the magician provided impetus to move families from the activity rooms to the multi-purpose room where treasures from the FOSS publisher (Delta Education), local merchants, families, and a variety of other sources were raffled. Even with these motivators, it took gentle, persistent reminders to encourage people to draw an end to their "science-ing" and move on—a fabulous testament to the wonder of science!

They taught in many different schools throughout the district but decided it would be easier to work together to plan one event. They put together a box of everything needed for that event, had each team member be the leader of one room with several activities (including at least one thing that people would make and take home with them), and then took the show on the road.


Here's how this circuit works, Mom. (Magnetism and Electricity Module)

The night started with a short welcome and introduction in the multi-purpose room where the principal told families about how the evening was organized, where activities were located, and about the show and raffle at the end of the evening. Food was sold throughout the evening to make money for the science program, allowing parents to come straight from work, if necessary, and have dinner available for the family. The introduction took about 15 minutes, activities in rooms lasted about an hour, and the closing was about 30 minutes. The entire event lasted just under two hours.

Each activity room was set up as a series of centers with Center Instruction Cards to guide the activity. The teacher leader in the room created some of the cards, and some were simply copied (or modified slightly) from FOSS Center Instruction Cards in the FOSS Teacher Guide. The teacher leader rotated between centers and/or stayed at any center that required more supervision. It was a noisy, sharing, discovering science family time!

These family science nights are a wonderful way of celebrating the good news of the world with families throughout the district, of building public understanding and support for the fun and value of science, and of strengthening the partnership of the leadership team as they work to develop and promote the FOSS district science program. With everyone working together, preparation was streamlined to manageable levels and took on the mood of a shared joyful event, contributing to the strength of their schools. Family science night: should we or shouldn't we? Unequivocally, YES!


Construction or Electrical Engineer? We'll try both! (Solids and Liquids and Magnetism and Electricity Modules)


Concentration and practice make a Zoomer expert. (Balance and Motion Module)


Now I know oobleck is Newtonian fluid. but it's still messy! (Mixtures and Solutions Module)


All these liquids and Family Science Night: so much FUN! (Solids and Liquids Module)