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School science fair promotes learning, community and more

April 25, 2018

As published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, March 27, 2018

Our family recently attended the annual science fair at Leeds Elementary School. This year’s event, our sixth and daughter Zoe’s last, offered a moment for reflection on what has become a highlight in both the school and our family’s calendar.

When Zoe was in kindergarten we recently had built a coop and acquired a brood of backyard chickens. Fittingly, her science experiment featured eggs. Egg Floating, was the title of the experiment, where the concept of density was illustrated by an egg sinking in a jar of fresh water, a second egg floating on the surface of a jar of salt water, and a third egg suspended mid-jar in a solution of less concentrated salt water. My wife, Lori, and I glowed as proud parents; Zoe beamed with enthusiasm, and 3-year old brother, Adam, marveled at the big kids and the carnival of experiments in the school cafeteria.

Zoe’s science fair resume grew to include Liquid Rainbow, Carnation Transpiration, Cabbage Chemistry, Chocolate Asphalt and the Science of Slime, some solo efforts, others with a friend.

Brother Adam started his science fair career with the ever-popular Erupting Volcano experiment, which required a sundry of ingredients, such as chicken wire, plaster of Paris, paint, baking soda, food coloring, water — and lots of rags for cleaning up the lava! Building on a theme, as an aspiring geologist, Adam has added Science of Saturn, Science of Fossils and Rock Tumbling to his growing portfolio.

Over the years, Zoe and Adam each have become more self-directed with topic selection, generating ideas for materials, and completing the project in a timely manner. Of course, lessons along the way have included the challenge of starting the project too late, especially the project poster, which includes lots of words, spelling — and white out. This year, Zoe and Adam started early, spreading the project over the span of a few weekends, and to everyone’s credit both projects were completed — without any tears or yelling.

In addition to all the preparation, including schlepping everything to and from school on the day of the fair, my favorite part of the learning experience is watching Zoe, Adam and their peers explain their respective projects to adult members of the school community. The confidence, sense of pride and self-worth that results from an adult listening to a child, asking probing questions and recognizing the child’s efforts is priceless.

Together, the budding scientists and caring adults, comprise a thriving, learning community where curiosity, the pursuit of scientific understanding and love of learning are on full display.

For our family, the event has become an important ritual, too, honoring the important learning and development of these formative years — and celebrating, as each year we enjoy dinner at our favorite pizzeria before heading to the evening fair.

But this year, the ritual marks a new transition, too, for soon Zoe will enter middle school, leaving behind her years at Leeds, the daily school bus rides, a wonderful community of teachers – and the science fair.

Zoe is thrilled about the coming adventure, and so are her parents, mostly. For years Lori and I have light-heartedly wished we could keep Zoe and Adam little, forever — ages 5 and 8 would be sweet. Now we would settle for 8 and 11.

But grow they will, and so all the more important that we honor each milestone, each precious, passing moment — one experiment, one project poster, one science fair — and one pizza dinner at a time.

John Engel of Florence can be reached through his website


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