By Mary O’KEEFE
Science fairs have always been a staple of Crescenta Valley schools. Volcanoes, magnets and models of the universe were common to see at local science events, but as the world advances so does education. Science fairs have evolved into science events with robots and, as an experiment at Mountain Avenue Elementary explored, how high can Barbie fly in a weather balloon.
Science over the years has changed in other ways with more and more girls getting involved in an area that traditionally had been a boy’s world. Students have moved from limiting the foundation of a science project as a straight hypothesis to mixing in some imagination.
“Ours is not a typical science fair,” said Mountain Avenue Elementary Principal Rebeca Witt. Mountain Avenue, which recently held its event, titled it a Science Fun Fair to open it up to more projects.
“Like how far can Barbie [fly] was an open ended question,” she added. “We want to promote curiosity.”
Witt added the event had strong support from students, parents and teachers.
“We also had hands-on experiments that were [conducted] by students from CV High School’s Academy of Science and Medicine,” Witt said.
The CVHS Academy students and those from Clark Magnet High School’s robotics program helped mentor the elementary students. Witt said this type of mentoring by high school students is invaluable to her students as a positive influence.
Assemblymember Mike Gatto stopped by Mountain Avenue for the Science Fun Fair, then the next day toured Clark Magnet High School’s robotics program. He said he was impressed with what he saw at both schools and throughout Crescenta Valley.
“CV schools are the best in … fostering that type of [science education],” he said. Gatto added the science programs are inspiring and necessary for California’s future.
“It is critical not just for the traditional STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) jobs, [they] are just one component,” he said.
The assemblymember said a science-trained work force is in short supply, that although Silicon Valley was once a place where computers and software were born, after speaking to those in the industries in Silicon Valley the country is not training enough scientists and engineers for the demand.
“They are turning to other countries, like India,” he said.
Gatto added he was hopeful that education funding in California will promote more freedom for teachers to cover more Science Fun Fairs where imagination can be encouraged. He believes Gov. Jerry Brown is heading in the right direction, referring to his State of the State address.
“We seem to think that education is a thing – like a vaccine – that can be designed from afar and simply injected into our children. But as the Irish poet William Butler Yeats said, ‘Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire,’” Gov. Brown stated in his address.
Gov. Brown added that he hopes the legislation will consider the principle of Subsidiarity, “the idea that a central authority should only perform those tasks which cannot be performed at a more immediate or local level. In other words, higher or more remote levels of government, like the state, should render assistance to local school districts, but always respect their primary jurisdiction and the dignity and freedom of teachers and students.”
The governor is in favor of cutting categorical programs, which should open up financial support for individual school boards to decide what type of study is best for their district.
This is a direction Gatto agrees with: giving the classroom back to teachers and not to teach to the test.
“One teacher told me … it takes two weeks out of the year [to prepare for all the testing that is required],” Gatto said. “I think we can get those teachers back to teaching the things that [our students] are interested in.”