Wendy Pavlicek and I have been hosting a Science Night at one of the Burlington elementary schools for the past three years. Over that time we have learned quite a bit about the types of activities that engage students and family members alike, as well as how to boost awareness for the event and keep things as low stress as possible for the volunteers who run the show. If you’re interested in hosting a Science Night of your own, I’ve put together this post just for you, with links to resources we have used over the past few years along with lists for materials that need to be collected, purchased, and/or printed out. More importantly, I’ve outlined a list of the most important steps to follow for facilitating a successful Science Night. While not everything Wendy and I do in Burlington will fit your space and needs, they will provide a nice vision of what can be adapted and accomplished to fit your school or district.
Step 1: Volunteers
A successful Science Night starts with having plenty of hands on-deck to make the night happen. If you are an administrator or parent, the PTO is a great place to begin. Connecting with a high school or middle school’s peer leader or student council group will also give you access to students who already understand the importance of service and leadership. A local college or university with a pre-service teacher program or teachers at the school enthusiastic to explore science with their students (despite the long day!) may also be able to help.
Step 2: Events and Activities
Knowing what kinds of volunteers you will have on hand can allow you to plan for events that are fun while playing to your volunteers strengths. Animals are a big hit with any K-5 child, and having nocturnal animals on hand will add to the theme. Snakes, hedgehogs, and creepy, crawlies like cockroaches are always popular! If you have connections or access to a wildlife society nearby they may even have more exotic creatures (like owls!) so give them a call!
During our Science Night we also have many crafty activities on hand for kids to participate in. Creating Big Dipper / Little Dipper star charts using glow paint and “Create-a-Constellation” are activities that are easy to manage and require only cheap supplies. Oobleck is another popular station that is best when participants are given handfuls of the mysterious matter and asked to determine if the matter is a solid or liquid. Students can post their claims on a wall marked “Solid / Liquid” by writing their names on a post-it note and sticking it to the side of their choice. A full list of activities and supplies we use can be found here.
Straw Rockets are another hit that require a little extra space but send students home with their very own paper projectile. Challenging students to “launch their rocket the farthest” or better still, land their rocket in a landing zone marked with a mat or hula-hoop on the floor gives kids something to shoot for. A template and instructions for building the rockets can be found on NASA’s website here, though we found some of the more precise cuts to be a little tricky for smaller hands and use a modified design.
Other showcase demonstrations such as “StarLabs” or telescope viewing can be done if your district has them or can pay to have someone setup and perform for the evening. Local astronomy clubs or observatories may have outreach people or programs that are worth looking into. If the night is cloudy, amaze the students with the magnifying power of the telescope by setting it up indoors! We printed a moon on the back of a foam board after a string of cloudy science nights.
Step 3: Promote!
All of your hard work will be for naught if you do not promote the event! Bulletins home and published on school and PTO websites are a start, but short promo videos shot with smartphones sharing some of the great offerings Science Night has will be even better. We ask teachers at the school to share the video with their class of students the Monday before the big event to generate buzz at the family dinner table.
Step 4: Have Fun!
Rarely will everything go according to plan. There may be lines for activities or a table may run out of a necessary supply. Just remember the goal of the night is to bring your school community together, to have fun, and hopefully excite the families who participate to make exploring science a bigger part of their lives. If you find these tips to be helpful, are interested in learning more, or have ideas and resources to share with others regarding a Science Night of your own, please share them in the comments section below!