Mad Scientists Take Over Garrison School

Second annual science-filled week is prelude to March’s science fair

By Alison Rooney

The Garrison School science fair, a longstanding March or April tradition, now has an innovative lead-in, Mad Science Week, designed to get students started, thinking and engaged with science and excited about devising their science fair projects. The Cougar’s Pride, the Garrison PTA newsletter, states: “We hope that the week will bring science to life, inspire kids to understand how the world works and increase participation in the Science Fair.”

Garrison School Board Member Theresa Orlandi helps students during Mad Science Week 2012.

Garrison School Board Member Theresa Orlandi helps students during Mad Science Week 2012.

This year’s program, the second annual, begins on Monday, Jan. 7, with the presentation of two assemblies — one for the elementary grades and another for middle school students — put on by Philadelphia’s renowned Franklin Institute Science Center.

With a focus on chemistry this year, the assemblies promise to “differentiate between physical and chemical properties through fun, engaging demonstrations. The chemistry show explores everything from everyday chemistry to the chemical ‘detective’ work performed by laboratory scientists,” according to Franklin Institute’s description.

The assemblies will bring all the students together, while in individual elementary school classrooms, parent volunteers will come in and perform experiments pertaining to specific topics advised in writing by the teachers. On average, each classroom will enjoy two or three such visits during the course of the week. Parents were provided with a number of ready-to-use experiments, or they were invited to devise their own experiments with input from their child’s teacher. One in-class parent experiment will include digestion, using acid in flasks simulating the human stomach.

Dr. Robin Whyatt of the Columbia University School of Public Health (and Garrison resident) will spend the day Tuesday with the middle schoolers sharing her experience choosing science as a career and the ways her research on pesticides has impacted public awareness and legal action, and mentoring the students in planning experiments to answer science questions that interest them.

Garrison School students enjoy science activities during last year's Mad Science Week.

Garrison School students enjoy science activities during last year’s Mad Science Week.

In the middle school, the classroom component will be focused around Mythbusters, the Discovery Channel’s popular science series. Rather than the parents coming in and showing them things, the middle school students will create myths themselves and then “bust” them as well. They will present their findings as part of the week’s culminating evening on Thursday, Jan. 10. Participation in the regular school science fair is mandatory for middle schoolers and optional for elementary students.

Throughout the week, science will be threaded into different parts of life at the school, according to Garrison PTA President Angela Smith, who has helped organize the program along with co-chairs of Mad Science Week (and parents) Marilyn Walker and Derek DuBois. All of the teachers will offer an enhanced science curriculum during the week. “As the kids go throughout their school day,” said Smith, “science will surround them in and out of the classroom.” Exhibits scattered throughout the school will include a telescope and a combination of hands-on and presentational material. The cafeteria will have television screens streaming different science channels.

Thursday evening is Family Night, and beginning at 6 p.m., (The Paper’s “Mouths to Feed columnist) Celia Barbour and her team will be making dinner for the families, who will then adjourn upstairs, allowing families to visit the gym at 7 p.m. to experience a range of hands-on science stations. These will include:

  • Testing your cycling watt output vs. that of triathlete Mike Bakker; Bakker will also talk about how he uses science to improve his performance as an ironman triathelete.
  • Table exhibits of animal bones and “other cool stuff”
  • A weather science show by Radley Horton
  • Pediatric medicine with Dr. Peter Gergely
  • Videos of cardiac ultrasound presented by Derek DuBois from material supplied by his cardiologist brother
  • Two presentations from the Carmel Discovery Center
  • Demonstrations from the middle schoolers of their mythbusting findings (some of which may involve watermelons, duct tape and lots of water)
  • A giant electromagnet that last year was used to lift third graders and kindergartners

Smith, who is in her first year as the head of the PTA, calls the teachers “very receptive” to the program. “Actually, the teachers have been receptive to everything we’ve done as a PTA.” It is hoped that this will continue through the years as an annual event.

Mad Science Week Schedule

All week: parent-led interactive experiments in the classroom

Monday, Jan. 7 – Assembly at 9 – 9:45 a.m. for grades K-4; 10 – 10:45 a.m. for grades 5-8 with the Franklin Institute on a chemistry theme

Thursday, Jan. 10 – Celia Barbour and her team will provide dinner from 6 to 7 p.m. in the cafeteria. The cost is $5 per person or $20 per family; pay at the door. Interactive exhibits in the gym follow from 7 to 8 p.m.

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