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Students have teaching down to a science

New York Teacher

Chris Duerr runs a test with his daughter to answer the question, “Does mold gro
Jonathan Fickies

Chris Duerr runs a test with his daughter to answer the question, “Does mold grow in the light or in the dark?” during the PS 84 Exploratorium in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

PS 84 teachers Leslie Yam and Gail Sims Bliss.
Jonathan Fickies

PS 84 teachers Leslie Yam and Gail Sims Bliss.

Gail Sims Bliss remembers the science fairs of her youth, when she did experiments that had no connection to what she was learning in school. So when the science teacher was asked to coordinate a fair at PS 84 in Brooklyn, she conceived a different kind of event and turned the tables on learning.

At the school’s fifth annual Science Exploratorium on May 15, more than 400 parents and guests experienced 47 hands-on experiments led by 320 Junior Scientists, aka students, in grades 2–8, who became teachers for a day at the school in Williamsburg.

“There is discussion — an interchange — between the student and the person they are teaching. It is not a presentation,” said Sims Bliss, who teaches 3rd- to 5th-graders. “They master content and then draw on what they’ve learned to both teach and answer questions.”

Each experiment answered a question in earth science, physical science, life science or chemistry, such as “Can you light a bulb with one wire and a battery?” or “What are the parts of a flower?”

The experience is “empowering for the student,” says Sims Bliss. “It’s a way of putting them in the driver’s seat.”

Parents learn the principles behind each experiment and are asked to complete a shortened version of the lab report students do in class. A brochure lists experiments by grade and includes a map of where each is located.

“It’s such a proud moment,” said Leslie Yam, whose 2nd-graders participated in the event. “They’re able to show what they’ve learned in class and present it in their own way. They’re able to explain the science behind what they’re doing. They use the same vocabulary you used when you taught it to them and they understand it. And on that night, they are science stars.”

Guests can also sign up for 15-minute tours of the school’s greenhouse, where students describe the different hydroponic systems. They can taste the herbs grown there and get a plant to take home.

“We’re creating a culture of science in the school,” said Sims Bliss. “Our goal is to give the students a predilection for inquiry and discovery, interest and curiosity.”

UFT Chapter Leader Awilda Campos-Peguero lauded all the people who worked hard to make sure the Exploratorium was a success.

“It’s a unique event that showcases what PS 84 really is,” she said. “We are a family.”

Related Topics: Pedagogy