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Family Science Night in New Haven engages parents and students in science education


  • From left, John Lopez, 3, and his brother, Jason, 9, learns how experiments work with Southern Connecticut State University sophomore Amy Orenstein at Family Science Night at Hill Central School in New Haven on Dec. 5, 2018. Photo: Arnold Gold / Hearst Connecticut Media / New Haven Register

    From left, John Lopez, 3, and his brother, Jason, 9, learns how experiments work with Southern Connecticut State University sophomore Amy Orenstein at Family Science Night at Hill Central School in New Haven on Dec. 5, 2018.

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    From left, John Lopez, 3, and his brother, Jason, 9, learns how experiments work with Southern Connecticut State University sophomore Amy Orenstein at Family Science Night at Hill Central School in New Haven on

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    Photo: Arnold Gold / Hearst Connecticut Media

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From left, John Lopez, 3, and his brother, Jason, 9, learns how experiments work with Southern Connecticut State University sophomore Amy Orenstein at Family Science Night at Hill Central School in New Haven on Dec. 5, 2018.

less

From left, John Lopez, 3, and his brother, Jason, 9, learns how experiments work with Southern Connecticut State University sophomore Amy Orenstein at Family Science Night at Hill Central School in New Haven on

… more



Photo: Arnold Gold / Hearst Connecticut Media


NEW HAVEN — In his 13 years as supervisor of science with New Haven schools, Richard Therrien said he realized there had been a difference between the intended audience of the long-running Family Science Night program and its beneficiaries.

“When we first started, it was like the science fair; it was more for teachers,” he said, as the focus seemed to be bogged down in rules, which made it better for science fair rehearsal than it did in making science engaging for young learners.


Although the program, which rotates between schools in different neighborhoods about twice a month in the winter, is tied into the district’s science fair program, the intention is doing science outreach by having parents and their students do science experiments together, Therrien said.


“It’s about getting kids and their families excited about science and getting them to the point where they’re excited that they can do science,” he said.

The district runs the program with several community partners, including Southern Connecticut State University, Yale University’s Center for Research on Interface Structures and Phenomena and the Yale Peabody Museum. On Wednesday afternoon at Hill Central School, volunteers facilitated eight hands-on science projects for families.

“It gives an impetus for parents to ask what students are doing in class,” Therrien said, “and it’s my sneaky way of having parents check in on what elementary school teachers are teaching in science.”

Katherine Perez, the Family Science Night coordinator, is a graduate student in physics at Southern Connecticut State University and a 2013 graduate of Wilbur Cross High School. She said she began volunteering with the program about five years ago as a freshman at SCSU and “completely loved it.”

Twenty-two families nearly filled the Hill Central cafeteria 30 minutes into the program, most with somewhere between two and four children.

Siblings Jayden and Kylene Lopez, 10 and 9, started their tour of the projects by choosing from a list of superpowers that they believed would be useful to save a man falling from the roof of a building.

“I would put a spiderweb at the bottom of the building so the person won’t get injured,” Kylene said. “And with long arms, you could grab the person.”


Therrien said the purpose of the exercise was to introduce students to evolutionary traits. If superheroes can have traits that help them adapt to their jobs in keeping people safe, he reasoned, so too could plants and fauna adapt to their habitats.

Jayden and Kylene’s father Luis Perez said he ordinarily takes the children to programs at their school.

“They have fun and learn new stuff,” he said.

Therrien said the target for the event is usually third to fifth grades, but the focus on the entire family means siblings and grandparents often come along, which expands the breadth of participation.

Amy Orenstein, a sophomore biochemistry major at SCSU, ran the project that Therrien said is most like a science fair project: testing how variables impact the speed with which a marble rolls down a slope.

Orenstein said Wednesday’s event was her second time doing a Family Science Night.

“The kids got really excited to learn about things that might be more complicated,” she said, as the time before she handled the station on viruses. “They learn that science can be accessible to them.”

Students also met Bridget Oei, Miss Connecticut 2019, who visited as part of her platform of making STEM more accessible to young learners, with a focus on women in STEM.

“I fell in love with science in sixth grade,” she said. “I liked finding out answers to the questions I had.”

Himadri Samanta, a lecturer at the University of New Haven, led students through a lesson in chromatology, as they used multicolored markers to draw on the center of paper circles and then watched as the colors changed into different shades after they placed the paper into water.

“This is my passion: going to schools and doing demonstrations with kids,” said Samanta, who once had a career as a pharmaceutical researcher. “I like to see their eyes light up when they learn something new.”

Brother and sister Nikan and Nili Sultani, 3 and 7, excitedly drew on their circles. Nili said her biggest takeaway was that only certain markers would actually work well with the project.

“Can we keep them?” she asked Samanta after her project was finished. Samanta told them they could.


brian.zahn@hearstmediact.com