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Engaging Families in Science to Spark Writing

Written by Mary Cunningham
June 28, 2021

As the day drew nearer, I grew more and more excited. I made multiple trips to Target and Wal-Mart for needed supplies, as well as submitted my supply list to my site representative. With a grateful heart, I made an email list of supplies for volunteers who put together kits for families who had signed up. The five teachers who participated in Panda Fellows from my site created an invitation for our students to our Science/Art themed activity zoom rooms. 

After deciding with my team on a day and time for my site’s Family Literacy Night, I carefully contemplated a fitting topic for my science activity. Other teachers had chosen fun, art-themed activities such as origami, dream catchers, and rainbows. As I contemplated what I wanted my activity to be, I considered a few factors: I wanted an activity that was a bit messy, but manageable. Something little boys would hear and say, “I want to do that one!” After browsing Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers, I finally decided on a science-themed topic: Volcanos! Perhaps it was my own childhood experience tied with wonderful memories of my mom creating homemade science projects that led me to this conclusion. 

On the day of the sign-up, my topic filled up quickly, as family members discussed what activity they wanted to do. The spots were maxed out at twenty-five and students were aware that first come, first serve! I quickly noticed that many families had signed up for my activity. Not individual students, but families! This excited me as I realized this was indeed the purpose of Family Literacy Night: to combine families in memory-making activities which sparked writing. 

On the night of the event, I nervously prepared my station, checking twice for all needed materials and supplies. I made sure my technology was working, that zoom was started and the Mystery Science film on Volcanos was opened and ready. I tested a volcano first to make sure it worked, and sure enough, success.

As students arrived on zoom, I greeted them by playing “Happy” by Will Farrel. Students and families smiled, showing their excited anticipation. After introducing the concept and laying some ground rules (such as safety, and the importance of following step by step directions), we began our Science activity. Being a teacher of young children, I have learned the importance of moving slowly and carefully through science activities. This worked out to my benefit as families and students stayed right with me for the most part. As volcanoes were formed, I saw creativity begin to emerge. Students had carefully molded striped, mixed, or all-one-color mountains from playdough. Then came time for the explosion! Students first watched as I poured baking soda, vinegar, and red food coloring into the center of the playdough mound. Then families dove into this process; this was so much fun to watch as students’ volcanoes exploded in screens all over zoom! 

In closing, I asked students to share one thing they learned about volcanoes. Students shared things such as; “I learned that some rocks come from inactive volcanoes”, “I learned that baking soda and vinegar make an explosion”, and “I enjoyed spending time with my family and doing something fun.” 

Because this event took place on a Friday, I planned to recap with these students the following Monday during class. Moving these students to breakout rooms during small groups, we discussed what they liked or didn’t like about the event. We then discussed what they learned. Many students shared that making a volcano was “cool” or “exciting”. They said they liked making the volcano and being with their families. One student shared that he was disappointed that his volcano didn’t really explode like he thought it would. 

All in all, I gathered that the thing students enjoyed the most was being with their families during the event. I enjoyed watching families work together, especially after all they have been through this year, and realized this was indeed the whole purpose of this event.

I greatly enjoyed being a part of this event and would participate again in a heart-beat. I am grateful for the opportunity and ability to put on a collaborative family event such as Family Night at McKinley. Opportunities like this are needed for McKinley families and enrich their lives beyond literacy.