Monday, July 16 , 2018, 5:18 am | Fair 65º


Marymount Students Channel Passion for Discovery Into Science Fair Projects

School's teachers guide each child's natural curiosity through active learning

Marymount of Santa Barbara’s annual science fair is more than a school science fair. It is a celebration of achievement, curiosity, creativity and community, and showcases an extremely strong science program.

Anticipation for Marymount’s science fair builds for weeks. At the fair, every class, starting with kindergarten, has a project to share. These projects on display are a reflection of the teaching philosophy at Marymount that the teacher is not there to simply share facts but rather to help direct a child’s natural curiosity through active learning that is most effective when students are working together in hands on lab experience to answer questions, solve problems and investigate.

Seventh-graders have had numerous field trips to UCSB marine biology labs and local marine habitats through a partnership with UCSB’s Marine Biology Department. Each seventh-grader develops a hypothesis about a marine organism and spends weeks testing, gathering data and measuring results that will be shared at the fair. Eighth-graders become engineers and launch remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) they built from raw parts to perform specific underwater tasks.

The science fair begins with an all-school assembly and introductory film of the classes’ science projects. The fair itself is large enough that it takes over four areas on campus and wanders over two-thirds of Marymount’s almost 10-acre Riviera campus. Starting in the Multipurpose Room, winding up to the pool and into the historic Tea House before finally culminating in Battistone Hall on the middle school campus, each student shares his or her work. There are mazes, roller coasters, jars of mysterious fluid, even dissected tennis shoes on display.

“It’s a lot of work for every student, but it’s a day that the students look forward to,” seventh-grader Isabel Bassi said.

Students break into “Buddy pairs” to attend the fair. The Buddy System at Marymount is a long-standing and much-loved tradition in which each student is assigned a “buddy” at the school in a different grade. The buddies attend various events together, from barbecues to play performances, throughout the year.

“The science fair is one of the most important buddy activities of the year because it puts middle school students in the role of teacher,” middle school science teacher Jannine Tuttle said. “Not only are middle school students able to spend time with their buddies, they are also responsible for mentoring younger classmates and helping them understand the different science concepts on display. It helps make science ‘cool’ for younger students. The younger students get the confidence of showing and explaining their work while noticing and absorbing what is interesting and important to the older students.”

Students develop their observation and communication skills in class all year, but their ability to teach another student about what they have learned is critical on this day.

The science program at Marymount is strongly enhanced by two state-of-the-art science labs, a science specialist in the lower school and two dynamic middle school science teachers. Marymount programs are further supported by close working relationships with UCSB, the Arroyo Hondo Preserve and professional scientists in the community. Field trips, meetings, working with real-world scientists and hands-on activities are an integral part of science at Marymount.

“Science at Marymount is fun and exciting,” Tuttle said. “It’s about being curious, asking questions and actively learning how to find ways to answer those questions.”

When asked about their science experience at Marymount, students are quick to talk about making rockets on the soccer field with lower school science specialist Rodney Lee and field trips to UCSB’s Materials Research Lab to build solar-powered cars or to Hollister Ranch to observe and study tide-pool animal adaptations.

Marymount alumni are just as quick to point out the strength of Marymount’s science program.

“When I went to high school, I was already familiar with many of the concepts I was presented with in my high school science classes,” said senior Matthew Grimes, headed for Wharton in the fall. “We had done so much of it already.”

Andrew Wooden, head of school at Marymount, noted that, “Despite the strength of current science, math and technology programs at Marymount, we continue to push forward. Science, math and technology are areas that today’s youth will need to be strong in for the future.”

Science at Marymount is not restricted to the science classes that all students take from junior kindergarten through eighth grade. Creative cross-curriculum teaching is an integral part of a Marymount education. An example is the surfing elective, which, in addition to surfing, helps students learn to predict wave patterns and measure sand crabs in different environments. Another is the middle school hiking elective that exposes students to Santa Barbara’s back country while teaching botany and geology in the process. In Mr. Lee’s popular after-school enrichment science class, students build solar-powered vehicles and bottle rockets.

Achievement, curiosity, creativity and community are consistently tied to the pursuit of excellence in science at Marymount. The annual science fair celebrates and showcases the importance and the relatedness of each.

— Molly Seguel is director of admissions for Marymount of Santa Barbara.

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