Yes, I know this is late. The new school year is about to start and I am only just finishing up the last school year. This post will describe the Grand Finale of the school year for my science classes, which was our First Annual Science Showcase at Walden School.
We had been working toward this all year, as you have seen from previous posts. Students in my astronomy and chemistry classes joined into small groups (2-3 students) and chose topics based on what interested them and what materials and equipment I had available. Then during first term, they conducted background research. My chemistry students created posters and several of them contributed posts to this blog. During second term, the teams condensed their research into a script for a presentation or mini-lesson on their topic which was to include explanation, background, and some type of demonstration or hands-on activity. The teams practiced and refined their scripts, then I divided the teams in half. Half of each class presented their demonstrations/lessons to their peers in class, and I had their fellow classmates fill out an evaluation form with Likert-style point scales and room for comments. The other half presented to our elementary classes and wrote evaluations on themselves. In astronomy, the students merely presented for the elementary classes once.
During third term in chemistry, the teams went over their evaluations and improved their scripts. I had them start to create Powerpoint slide shows or add YouTube videos to increase the depth of their presentations. Then the teams presented again – those that presented to their peers now presented to the elementary classes and vice versa. Evaluations were again filled out, with even more detail. I also wrote up my own detailed suggestions for each team.
Finally, fourth term, we made our final preparations and practiced and set up our Science Showcase on May 16. I also asked the astronomy students to return and reprise their presentations, and had my geology students help out. Since our school is small, many students presented twice (and got extra credit for it). We set up an invitation for the parents and had it e-mailed out to the whole school mailing list. It took a lot of preparation, and wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the Air Force Association Educator Grant, which helped to pay for materials and supplies that were used up each time we presented (like plastic cups, red cabbage, white glue, etc.).
We set up the evening to be in three classrooms and outside on the school’s back patio (for the dangerous or messy presentations). The teams were assigned carefully so that those who were doing more than one session could make it to each one. Some students also got credit for helping film the sessions, making sure the refreshments were done (homemade root beer and ice cream, which were actually presented at two sessions), acting as hosts for each room, etc. For four sessions we had four presentations going at the same time, or about 16 topics altogether.
It was a bit frustrating to get the students all there on time (an hour early) and a few things I wanted to do didn’t get done, but overall the night was a huge success. I had about 30 students involved, and there were about 40-50 other people who attended, some other students, some parents, some siblings. A few of the sessions were too short, and the student hosts in each room didn’t watch the clock well enough, so the schedule got a bit messed up by the end, and we had to take a break for refreshments. The homemade root beer (we already had dry ice) and ice cream (another presentation) went over well. Some of the sessions only had a few in the audience, others were packed.
The last session was done by Jerry and Karl on properties of the elements and how fireworks are made, and in addition to the methanol flame test, Karl had made his own sparklers. He’d looked up a recipe online, but I didn’t have all the exact ingredients, so we substituted and experimented for a few days and came up with a viable recipe, one that actually works better than commercial sparklers. It was nice to have a grand finale, so to speak.
We videotaped and photographed everything, and I am still trying to capture and compile the video. I have only two weeks left until school starts, and my goal is to put together a final 15 minute video of all our presentations for the year before school begins so that I can show it to my next classes and post it here.
As an assessment of the evening, I didn’t have any kind of feedback forms, but based on overheard comments, feedback from parents and other teachers, and general excitement of my students, I’d say the evening was a great success. Everyone had fun, most of the presentations worked well, the students came through very well, and I saw some genuine learning and expertise displayed by my students. Certainly they have come to feel comfortable using lab equipment and presenting to their peers and others. What they presented they have now learned deeply and will never forget, long after stoichiometry and thermochemistry have faded away. For our first year doing this, we have set up a good foundation. There are things that can be improved, of course, and I hope to get the other science teachers involved this coming year. At least now my students know what to expect.
I hope to have several students display their science experiments, where they designed, observed, and analyzed their own data for science fairs. My one science fair student displayed his computer game project and it was well attended and received. Next year, as we are involved in authentic NASA research, we’ll have more students doing the real thing. But more on that next post.