Family Science Day: A Family Science Event Engages a Community in STEAM Exploration

By McCubbins, Sara; Thomas, Bethany et al. | Science and Children, Summer 2014 | Go to article overview

Family Science Day: A Family Science Event Engages a Community in STEAM Exploration


McCubbins, Sara, Thomas, Bethany, Vetere, Michael, Science and Children


In November 2009, the Educate to Innovate initiative was launched, aiming to "move American students from the middle to the top of the pack in science and math achievement over the next decade" by encouraging partnerships between the federal government and "leading companies, foundations, nonprofits, and science and engineering societies who have come forward to answer the President's call for all-hands-on deck" (The White House 2013). Additionally, the informal learning environment is uniquely positioned to engage students in the scientific and engineering practices outlined in the Next Generation Science Standards as we shift from an emphasis on science content to an emphasis on knowledge and skills (NGSS Lead States 2013). So, what can educators do to ensure our students have full access to the best possible education? Why not take advantage of the informal experiences that already exist in our own communities by collaborating with local universities, community organizations, businesses, and nonprofits? This collaboration is exactly what Family Science Day and other informal science events are all about.

Now in its fourth year, Family Science Day was started to educate and inspire K-8 students in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). This family-friendly event helps encourage scientific discovery through hands-on activities while providing the opportunity to learn about scientific careers from actual research scientists and science educators, raising awareness of the importance of STEM in our society. Last year, we added the arts, effectively converting STEM into STEAM. The event attracted nearly 3,500 attendees and draws more than 100 exhibits annually from groups like the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, the St. Louis Science Center, and NASA. This one-day event brings together the local university, museums, and other informal science groups to combine resources and expertise that are often not available in K-12 schools in a safe environment open to the whole family. The benefits of these partnerships are tremendous: students can see that the science they learn in school matters in their life outside the classroom; parents can see how they can safely encourage their children to explore and use creativity and critical-thinking skills; and teachers can use these resources and activities to make connections back to their own classrooms.

The Need for Informal Science Events

Pulling the community together to provide an event to inspire STEAM learning experiences for the entire family is a great way to engage parents and children together--something that the classroom alone cannot always provide. In a 2010 study on family involvement, Walker, Shenker, and Hoover-Dempsey recommended that school personnel "organize family-centric activities to bring parents and students to the school to play together (e.g., family fun nights, swim nights...)" as a way to facilitate whole-family participation (p. 41). Research also shows that parental involvement is crucial to a child's attitude, understanding, and academic success in science education, regardless of background factors (NSTA 2009; Henderson and Mapp 2002). The best part is that developing an event like this is easier than you think! Ingenuity and innovation already exist in our own backyard, so why not take advantage of these informal experiences by collaborating with local universities, community organizations, businesses, and nonprofits?

It's All About the Resources

A family science event is a great venue for bringing together families and children to explore, experiment, and discover. However, many teachers lack the resources and time to organize such an endeavor. An alternative to hosting a family science event at your school is to see what's already available in your community. Partnering with a local university or children's museum is one way to access many great opportunities. Our community-wide Family Science Day event represents a partnership between a local public university, a local children's museum, and a local Challenger Learning Center. …

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