This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

UB program makes science fun for kids

A student at the Native American Magnet School performs an experiment during the recent Science Fun Night at the school. Photo: BUFFALO PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Published: March 29, 2012

The science night booths at Buffalo’s Native American Magnet School spilled out from the cafeteria into an adjacent hallway, where a pack of middle school students huddled around UB chemist David Watson.

He was walking them through the process of constructing a miniature solar cell: how to hold a pipette; how to squeeze drops of an electrolyte between electrodes; and, finally, how to measure the output of the petite photovoltaic creations.

Watson, an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry, was among volunteers who manned tables at Native American Magnet’s family science night on March 21. The event drew about 300 students and parents. Activities included making ice cream, slime and lava lamps—and learning about the scientific principles behind each.

The teachers who hosted the science night—Heather Maciejewski and Mary Ellement—both participate in the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Partnership (ISEP), a UB-led program to improve science education in the Buffalo Public Schools.

ISEP encourages teachers to add interdisciplinary content to lessons and to devote more class time to activities like experiments that emphasize problem-solving. Teachers who take part receive not only new professional development opportunities, but also classroom and afterschool help from a wide range of community partners.

Volunteers at last week’s science night ranged from UB students to a scientist from Praxair, a local company. Maciejewski, Ellement and Native American Magnet Principal Linda Brancatella supported the evening’s activities.

The event, filled with shouts of delight and surprise, was a lively demonstration of how ISEP is making science more exciting for students and teachers in Buffalo, said Joseph Gardella, the UB chemistry professor who is leading the project.

“We all were thrilled with the Science Fun Night,” Gardella said. “It has become an annual event because it brings together students and their parents to do many different experiments. The students show their parents how the experiments work and the science behind them. The energy in all three rooms was high, and we are grateful for the amazing contributions of UB faculty and undergraduate and graduate students, and the dedication of the school’s faculty.”

“It was cool how good of a turnout there was,” Watson said. “The exciting and fun part of science is this element of discovery and research. A lot of the kids were pretty into the experiments.”

ISEP—funded by a five-year, $10 million National Science Foundation grant—is a partnership between UB, the Buffalo Public Schools, Buffalo State College and the Buffalo Museum of Science.

The Native American Magnet School, also known as School 19, is one of 12 Buffalo Public Schools involved in the program.

About 60 teachers will take part in ISEP this year. They will receive professional development opportunities, including the chance to conduct summer research with UB and Buffalo State College science, technology, engineering and mathematics faculty, as well as scientists and faculty at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute and corporate partner Praxair.