Nearly 100 third-graders from Fort Smith area schools took part in informative, interactive and fun experiments Nov. 2 at the second annual Festival of Science in the Math-Science Building on the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith campus.
Running from 1:30-3:30 p.m., the event featured 13 separate labs where kids conducted a variety of experiments spanning several branches of science including geology, biology and chemistry.
Dave McGinnis of Fort Smith, assistant professor of chemistry at the College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, said the mission of the event was “to introduce children to science in a fun and child-friendly environment.”
“I sincerely hope that this initiative encouraged children to ask questions about the world around them,” said McGinnis, who helped create the event. “Children are natural scientists, so it is imperative that we try to maximize their scientific potential early on.”
One of the more popular experiments at the festival was mixing and playing with a fluid called “oobleck,” a viscous liquid which McGinnis said is a mixture of cornstarch and water.
Other experiments included Strawberry DNA, where students extracted DNA from a strawberry; Dry Ice Color Show, where dry ice was placed into cups of water colored with dye; and Elephant Toothpaste, where students created foam through a chemical reaction.
“Each child had hands-on activities during the event, which helped foster life-long learning habits,” McGinnis said.
The event nearly doubled in size in its second year, having increased its number of participants to 100 students, up from 50 the year before. They also added four new labs, including experiments on physics and engineering.
Over 50 UAFS students from five campus colleges and approximately 20 UAFS faculty members volunteered at the festival, helping to teach courses and assist students as they worked in the laboratories.
Jennifer Jennings Davis of Van Buren, director of the Education Renewal Zone at UAFS who helped plan the event, said there was nearly a 1:1 ratio of students and volunteers.
“We had lab assistants making sure kids had supplies, and one-on-one volunteers encouraging the kids and helping them out,” she said. “We’ve intentionally grown the event slowly and deliberately to make sure we can adequately accommodate each student.”
Dr. Jennifer Jamison of Van Buren, assistant professor of chemistry at UAFS and co-creator of the event, said the Festival of Science has become “something that we look forward to doing every year now.”
“We are excited to watch it grow and mature into something even bigger, better, and more exciting for the kids and volunteers,” she said.
The schools participating in the event were Beard Elementary, Cavanaugh Elementary, and Woods Elementary, all of Fort Smith, and Mansfield Elementary and Hackett Elementary.
The Education Renewal Zone is one of six ERZs in the state. It is a collaborative effort among 11 member school districts and 35 partner schools in the Arkansas River Valley. Its mission is to collaborate with Pre-K-16 educators, students, families and their supporting communities to combine efforts to improve achievement and learning experiences for all students.