The late-October night was full of the excitement, though no jack-o-lanterns, ghoulish costumes, or sugary snacks could be found. Instead of brooms, paper “straw rockets” flew through the air. Students gazed skyward through telescopes fixed on the waxing gibbous moon and waited anxiously in line with family members to check out the portable planetarium and nocturnal animals up close from the Burlington Science Center.
One of the many things I appreciate about sharing via social media are the ways in which we can connect with others who have similar goals or aspirations. In this case, “Science Night” was born from a tweet I wrote during an #elemsci chat about engaging students with their outdoor world. I mentioned my desire to host a star night. Little did I know Pine Glen friends, Dan Callahan and John Lyons were following along with the conversation, prompting the following interaction:
From there the gears were set in motion. John proposed an evening tied in to the PTO’s fall community night. With this being everyone’s first “Science Night” we kept things simple. A few craft stations, telescopes outside to observe the most easily recognizable object in the night sky, the moon, and the incorporation of one of the more fabulous pieces of equipment owned by the school system, our “StarLab.”
Every school system has its own community resources and organizations that will have to be taken into account. That being said, there were a few universal steps I think any science night organizer needs to consider when putting an event together.
The Right Time – The days available for a star night were entirely dependent on the sun set and the moon phase. In the case of our evening, we planned a night with a waxing gibbous moon that put it high in the sky for our telescopes to target above the trees early in the evening before student bed times. October was an ideal month because it was not yet overly-cold outside but the days were rapidly growing shorter.
Preparing for All Weather Conditions – With the moon rising roughly one hour earlier everyday, a “rain-date” can be challenging. Better to have an evening planned with lots of indoor science activities regardless of whether the sky is clear or overcast. In the case of our Science Night I asked our Life Science Specialist (and Science Center Director) Wendy Pavlicek to bring some of her nocturnal animals along for display and short info talks. For a full list of the activities we did and links to their associated resources click here.
Ready Your Volunteers – The Science Center boasts a collection of enthusiastic high school volunteers that really helped make things run. Our student helpers ran the StarLab demonstrations on constellations, helped students build their straw rockets, and aided Wendy with her animal talks and care. The StarLab students were prepped the day before and given their own walk-through. Other students were alerted of their roles before-hand and asked to arrive early to go over last-minute plans. PTO Members, enthusiastic classroom teachers, or science clubs at the middle and high school level might also make excellent helpers to pull off such an event.
Build Excitement – I produced a YouTube short video to accompany the newsletter sent home by the school to help engage the students. According to Pine Glen sources, the video was a huge success in generating ‘buzz’ for the event, which likely led to the much improved turn-out over the previous spring’s “Math Night.” Teachers shared the video during morning meeting with students in school a few days before the event.
The Science Night was a huge success in thanks to planning ahead of time, bringing together lots of volunteers to help lift the load, and by keeping it simple! The entire event was held in and just outside of the school’s gymnasium. While the space became tight during peak-times, I believe it added to the excitement and sense of community. For a full post on the event and pictures, check out the Science Center blog post.
Future events will have to be expanded, as Pine Glen is the smallest of four elementary schools in the district and the limited participation nature of the StarLab mean other activities need to be created or expanded. I will gladly take any such suggestions in the comments below!