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Menlo Park school district celebrates science

Four schools hold science events; state science fair winners announced

Oak Knoll art teacher Jayd Almquist teaches students how to make catapults to help create a mural during Oak Knoll's April 26 STEAM on the Knoll event in Menlo Park. (Courtesy Menlo Park City School District)

Not only did four Menlo Park City School District schools hold science-related events during the week of April 23, the district also heard that two students won awards at the state science fair.

The events drew parents, community members, high school volunteers, and representatives of the Lawrence Hall of Science, who joined teachers and staff in offering hundreds of experiments for all ages and levels of students to participate in.

Oak Knoll

Oak Knoll Elementary School's second annual Steam on the Knoll evening was April 26. Students collaborated and produced creations using a variety of science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics activities.

Participants built Rube Goldberg Machines with the goal of ringing a simple bell; designed, built, and launched parachutes from the second floor classrooms; experimented with chemical reactions by shooting pop-rockets into the air; and enjoyed getting messy with catapult painting.

Laurel

Laurel Elementary School's upper and lower campuses had their annual STEAM Fair on April 27, lasting all day on both campuses. There were 60 student participation stations with laser mazes, hoverboards, pulley engineering, lemonade science (sweet and sour), owl pellet dissection, the workings of electric guitars, and the perennial favorite: ice cream science with liquid nitrogen.

Principal Linda Creighton even tested out the pulley power zip line, and brave teachers wrapped themselves in snakes.

Encinal

Encinal Elementary’s Science Fair on April 27 featured workshop stations throughout campus, along with a judged fair of student science projects. In the gym, project topics included finding the best animal habitats, discovering what makes flowers last longest, how colors of paper affect reading speed, understanding the principles behind magnetic levitation, and more.

Parent volunteers helped judge the entries.

Dozens of interactive experiments involved the science of robotics, non-Newtonian fluid, the radiometer, electricity generation, and other scientific subjects. Representatives of UC Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science made their second trip to Encinal this year to host many of the experiments.

The Encinal fair was founded five years ago by school district alumnus and current high school senior, Navya Anne, who had enjoyed participating in Oak Knoll’s fair. She launched the Encinal event when she realized that school didn't have a science fair.

Early exposure to science exploration had a profound impact on her, Anne said. "Learning science can make a child more curious about the world around them and provides the opportunity to learn in a fun way through experiments," she said. She was inspired to take advanced STEM classes throughout high school, and hopes to pursue a STEM-related career, she said.

State science fair winners

During the week of science exploration at the elementary schools, it was also announced that two Hillview Middle School students were among those who received awards for their original research projects at the 67th California State Science and Engineering Fair.

Seventh-grader Jack Liu won honorable mention in computational systems and analysis for "Comparing the Effects of Various Corpora’s Qualities on NLG/NLP Systems." Jack said trying to qualify for recognition was really important to him.

"I've always wanted to express my work and put myself out there with others of my age, because it pushes me to do better, more sophisticated work," he said. He learned from others' projects, he said, and found that working on his project led him toward places he hadn't looked at before.

"My inquiry into natural language processing helped me branch out to a new area, cellular automata," he said. "My work on this one topic proved to be a gateway to discovery."

Eighth-grader Caden Annison won second place in physics and astronomy for "Determining if Concrete is a Liable Screen Against Galactic Cosmic Radiation."

Caden said the project was a lot of work, but he got a lot out of it. "I developed skills such as speaking, researching, and outlining.

"I met a lot of really nice people and developed connections with those who shared similar interests in science. You get to go around and see the other projects of students who are just like you - they've done something worthy of recognition, which is pretty awesome," he said.

Caden said he appreciated "learning about others' processes and 'tips or tricks,' even if they were in other fields than my own. This experience improved me as a student and a thinker."

District's emphasis on science

The district's TOSA (Teacher on Special Assignment) for math and science, Alicia Payton-Miyazaki, says the district’s goal is to "reach all students through their engagement with science." Science is the perfect subject to have families engage in together, she said, with science projects and experiments that have a low entry and high ceiling, so any family member can join in.

"We want to have many opportunities for the whole family to come out and enjoy science together," she said.

Skills practiced in science learning apply across the curriculum, including writing, research, analysis and design, and most importantly, Payton-Miyazaki said, critical thinking.

"We want all students to see themselves as scientists" she said.

In addition to the three events in late April, the district holds an Engineering Day at Encinal, a STEM Friends and Family day at Oak Knoll, a Science Fair and evening celebration at Hillview, and, weather permitting, Astronomy Night.

The district's parent teacher organizations and the Menlo Park-Atherton Education Foundation provide volunteers, supplies and funding.

— Barbara Wood

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