Over 300 people gathered at Thousand Oaks Elementary School last Friday evening for the school’s 8th annual Science Fair. Posters describing student experiments filled the cafeteria with displays that covered topics ranging from nutrition, to plant physiology, electro-chemistry, psychology, and even “kindergarten archaeology.” Proud students led parents around the room, joined up with friends to select goodies from the potluck dinner table, and went from table to table reading, touching, listening, and discovering. Displays ranged from posters with photos and a few descriptive words written in a kindergarten hand to large, interactive projects by teams of 5th graders.
The Thousand Oaks Science Fair, which takes place every January, is a collaborative effort among T.O. parents and teaching staff. The event plays a major role in engaging T.O.’s diverse student population in the wonders of scientific exploration. The fair is non-competitive and features both student exhibits and demonstrations from outside exhibitors, students and families. The event had a fun carnival atmosphere, as kids ran from exhibit to exhibit, nibbling on snacks, laughing, and trying hands-on demonstrations of different scientific principles under the supervision of parents.
In previous years, the Science Fair has featured 80-90 science exhibits by individual students, teams of students and classrooms. This year, the fair displayed a total of 100 science projects. In addition, each classroom conducted a hands-on experiment, and then demonstrated or displayed the project at the Fair. By combining individual student projects, classroom projects, and extensive involvement by volunteers, the Science Fair organizers work to give students opportunities to participate and learn. At least 330 students—over 70% of the school’s population—participated as exhibitors and/or spectators in Friday’s event.
In addition to the students’ exhibits, highlights of Friday’s event included demonstrations and hands-on experiments from the Oakland Museum of California (http://museumca.org/), SaveNature.org’s Insect Discovery Lab (http://www.savenature.org/content/IDL), and a wide range of activities run by parent volunteers including a catapult built with original specifications from medieval times, a taste buds test, and making musical instruments out of carrots.
The annual Science Fair is one of the most popular community events of the year for Thousand Oaks, second only to the school’s year-end carnival (held in early June). According to co-organizers science teacher, Jon Bindloss, and parent Amy Billstrom, success of the Fair stems from close parent ties and cooperation between parents and teachers. Over the past few years, the co-organizers have prioritized getting parents involved in classroom and individual science projects in the weeks leading up to the Fair. Over time, the event has become highly anticipated and one for which individual student and classroom participation is expected.
PTA board members see the Science Fair as an integral part of Thousand Oaks Elementary School’s science curriculum and community involvement. While the state of California faces continual funding shortfalls in education, the Thousand Oaks PTA has helped raise additional community donations to supplement funding from the Berkeley Public Education Foundation (http://www.bpef-online.org/) to support the Fair.