Shepherdstown students think like scientists
If you grew up learning that science is a class where you memorize four-syllable words and follow instructions straight out of the lab manual, raise your hand.
That’s just the kind of thinking that Cheryl Lawrence is working to change when she helps her students develop ideas for science fairs. Lawrence has been teaching for more than 40 years at Shepherdstown Elementary School. Now retired, Lawrence substitutes at Shepherdstown Elementary and volunteers for the science fair every year.
According to Lawrence, Shepherdstown Elementary has been celebrating it’s annual science fair for more than four decades.
“We started the science fair in 1976,” Lawrence said. “I remember we had to take a break from the science fair one year. But, we picked right back up and to this day we are still going, which is amazing. Pat Sturgis was my co-worker when we started all this. We got the idea to start our own science fair when we went to one, where they just gave out ribbons. We really felt there was a great need for children to have a science fair done the right way. Now, we host third through fifth-grade science fairs.”
Lawrence said too often students think science is about memorization and step-by-step procedures, rather than active and live processes.
“It’s so important to have hands-on learning and do lots of science activities, I have always believed in that,” Lawrence said. “We have our science fairs broken down into different categories, from biology, physics, chemistry, earth-science, environmental science and computer sciencethey can find what they are interested in. We then teach them the scientific method, we teach them how to be articulate when presenting their findings, how to create visual displays, how to do research on their topic, things like that. So, we encompass a lot in our science fairs which I think is really important.”
Although science fairs require a commitment, Lawrence said the process can be gratifying for both students and teachers.
“We try and help the students as much as we can, but I also really want them to learn and challenge themselves,” Lawrence said. “The third graders don’t have to go into quite as much depth as say the fifth graders, but we still want them to use the scientific method and we still want them to learn the purpose of their experiment.”
Fred Dubay, head judge for the science fair, said he enjoys seeing students having fun while learning.
“We need more people interested in science,” Dubay said. “Very few elementary schools in the country do this. I became aware of the Shepherdstown Elementary School Science Fair when my oldest granddaughter did her first project seven years ago. She is now in high school but still remembers her elementary school project and how much fun it was. It is totally voluntarythe students do not have to do it, but a very large number of boys and girls do. They learn some science, they learn how to do research, they learn how to team up, they learn how to present their results to a team of judges who do have science backgrounds and they learn that they can have fun learning something that interests them. It is really impressive to see these 9-year-old students present some real science to judges who they do not know.”
Lawrence agreed, stating Shepherdstown Elementary is now one of the only remaining schools to have yearly science fairs.
“We have been going 40 years strong and, we hope to keep on going,” Lawrence said. “We cannot empower these children if we don’t give them the tools. I’ll say it again, hands-on learning is so important. Of course informational articles are good, but when you can see it, hear it, touch it, feel it through all of your senses, you are going to really absorb it. With our science fairs that’s what we try to accomplish.”