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New Teachers Online: How-To Articles: Implement Standards, Curriculum, and Assessment

Forming a Science Club
Judy Jones

Why Science Clubs?
When I was a second-year teacher, a couple of students came to me and asked me if I would sponsor a science club. They wanted a club that would allow them to go on interesting field trips. I was a newly married but then childless teacher who thought this sounded like a wonderful idea. So my husband and I became chaperones for some wonderful trips to places like Joshua Tree National Monument and the Pacific tide pools as well as more local sites such as the Los Angeles Zoo and the Museum of Science and Industry.

The club included about 15-20 students and was very loosely organized. The original two students were joined by two others to form the officer group and mainly they called meetings to plan their next adventures. I did not attempt to “curriculum” plan their experiences. They were a group of very enthusiastic young people who loved to learn on their own. This experience convinced me that science clubs have a great deal of value. They provide an opportunity for students to learn from leadership roles; they allow for more informal learning of science; and they allow students to work together cooperatively and have a great deal of fun in the process. Science clubs often draw students who love hands-on science but are not necessarily on the “valedictorian track.”

What Do We Do?
Now, 38 years after my first experience, I still have a science club. This club has a very different focus due to the interests of the students. These students are very motivated to compete in the Science Olympiad and the National Science Bowl competitions as well as more traditional quiz bowl competitions. They also plan picnics and games (such as “capture the flag”) to build club friendships, but primarily they are involved in preparing for the competitions. I believe that my role as advisor is to help them decide what they want from their club.

For the last several years, my students have been most interested in the competitions. North Carolina has a very active Science Olympiad, so each year we compete at a regional level and then again at the state level. We have never been one of the two teams to make it to the National level – but we are still working at it! Part of the dilemma is that I have the philosophy that this club belongs to the students. I don’t think that adults should be more than consultants and advisors. Students should build their own devices and do their own preparation for their events. This is not the philosophy at every school that competes. However, when my students do win, they have that wonderful sense of pride that comes from the rewards of hard work.

The Science Olympiad is a competition that consists of 20 plus events. All events are done by a pair or a trio of students who work together. The events range from typical academic-style such as Designer Genes and Fossils to building events such as Mission Possible and Storm the Castle. You can go to the national website and to the North Carolina website to get a better idea of the wonderful variety of these events. Science Olympiad in North Carolina does require an application fee per team, but our school system pays this. They also pay for the school bus for the Saturday competitions.

The National Science Bowl is a competition for teams of 5 students (4 plus an alternate). It is typical quiz bowl style. The national website lists the rules and provides an array of practice questions. You need to win your state regional event to attend the national event. Almost every state has a regional. This event is usually free!

The traditional quiz bowl competitions function very similarly to the Science Bowl except students are asked questions from all areas of knowledge, including current culture.

How Did We Get Started and How Do We Function?
At my previous high school I merely helped the science club advisor but in 1996 when I began teaching at my current high school, I decided to see if students were interested in forming a club. I put a notice in the daily announcements that there would be an organizational meeting to form a science club. At the meeting, I first asked if the students wanted a science club. The response was overwhelmingly positive! I then passed around a questionnaire asking students to indicate their interests. From that point, we were off and running!

(Note: We still use a similar questionnaire today (pdf file). My officers and I are always willing to shift the focus of the club if the current membership desires. I include e-mail addresses. All of our students have access to e-mail and this has become the most reliable way to give students information about upcoming meetings and events.)

In the spring we elect a secretary, a treasurer, two vice-presidents, and president-elect for the next year. We also have a webmaster (visit our webpage). By having a president-elect, it ensures that we have some continuity from year to year. We developed this process about 4 years ago and it has worked very well. Our vice-presidents each take a focus area, either competitions or other club activities. Our secretary does all the e-mails and sets up the original e-mail address book. Our treasurer organizes fundraising and repayment for event materials. Our science club does need money for materials for the building events (Science Olympiad) and to buy a buzzer system, etc. My officers have conducted candy sales, car washes, and other typical events to earn money. We usually spend about what we make! But the fundraising provides an opportunity for a different kind of leadership and organization.

I always let my officers work together to form the Olympiad and quiz bowl teams. This means that they have to do the difficult job of informing people when they have not been chosen for a team. But this is part of learning to be a leader. (If I do all the work, they will never learn to be initiators and leaders.) My officers meet every week to plan and organize for club events. The club meets every two weeks (usually) but when we are gearing up for a competition, the meetings are much more often. The Science Bowl team meets every Friday afternoon for an hour to practice – all their own initiative!

Running a science club does take time, but the rewards are great. I recommend this adventure to new teachers (especially after you have successfully finished your first year!). Please e-mail me if you have any questions.

These links will be very helpful to you, if you decide to form a science club:

National Science Bowl: http://scied.science.doe.gov/nsb/default.htm
National Science Olympiad: http://soinc.org/
North Carolina Science Olympiad: http://tx.ncsu.edu/science_olympiad/
East Chapel Hill High School Science Club website: http://unc.edu/~mxhe/sciclub/

 

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