May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Family Science Nights

Posted: Saturday, January 1st, 2011

by Pete A’Hearn

Kids love to share what they are learning  in science with their parents, and they love making new discoveries with their families.  Hosting a family science night is a great way to encourage kids and their families to do hands-on science together.

A basic family science night consists of hands-on science stations with simple instructions set up in tables in the cafeteria or outside in a common area.  Teachers cover one to three stations, depending on how complex they are, to help families do the activities.  Older students can also be enlisted to run a station, and kids love to show off the science they have learned.

Stations can often be easily made using the hands-on materials in your science curriculum.  I have found that FOSS experiments are particularly ready to use.  Write up some simple instructions with some good open-ended questions to foster inquiry.  In my district, I try to get as many of them translated into Spanish as I can.  At the end of this article I’ve provided some examples of instruction sheets.

Some examples of hands-on stations I have used are:

  • Stream tables to experiment with erosion.
  • What types of things stick to a magnet?
  • Electromagnets with various extra circuit components and questions about how to make them stronger.
  • Make the phases of the moon with a chart, a bright light, and Styrofoam balls on as stick.
  • Observing living things with hand lenses and various supplies to investigate behavior—mealworms, land snails, sow bugs.
  • Minerals and supplies to observe their properties—scratch test, streak plate, magnet, vinegar.
  • Telescopes outside—invite members of your local astronomical society.
  • Microscopes with pond water, compost in water, fermenting yeast.  If you have a microscope camera and a projector, then participants can share their discoveries.
  • Light up a bulb with a battery and two wires.
  • Van De Graff generator.
  • How many drops of water can you fit on a penny and what variables can you change and test?
  • Break open rocks with rock hammers (safety goggles provided) and identify the minerals inside.
  • Use magnets in plastic bags to find magnetite in the playground sand.
  • Food Web card concentration—pay a version of concentration in which the first player to build a five step food web wins.
  • Human body systems floor puzzle.
  • Identifying animals by their skeletons.
  • Building tops and timing how long they stay up.
  • Generating electricity with a wind turbine and testing changes to the blades.
  • Straw rocket design and testing.
  • Finding the focal length of different lenses by projecting images.

There is money in Title I for parent involvement, both at the site and district levels.  Some schools might choose to use some of these funds for family nights.  This might be used to purchase supplies or to pay teachers for time in setting up the event.

You can organize a family science night with different themes or purposes.   Some events we have held are:  STEM Careers Night, Science Fair Night,  Family Astronomy Night, 4th and 5th Grade CST Science Night, and just good ol’ Science Night.  In a future issue, I’ll discuss some of the different kinds of Family Science Nights we have had in Palm Springs Unified School District and how they are organized.

The San Joaquin County Office of Education has some great ideas for Family Science Nights: http://imeet.sjcoe.net/familyscienceevents/Welcome.html.

(Instruction sheets for some of the activities can be found on the CSTA website at www.cascience.org/csta/pdf/FamilyScienceNightDirections.doc.)

Pete A’Hearn is the K-12 science specialist in the Palm Springs Unified School District and is region 4 director for CSTA.

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

2 Responses

  1. […] too structured.  For younger students, I set up many hands-on stations like those described in the January CCS, but add a […]

  2. For those of you who were trying to access the Family Science Night Directions document, our apologies that the link above was broken, it has now been fixed.

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