Students and families participate in early morning sessions featuring local scientists

Students joined by their parents get "hands on" with a giant squid.

Students joined by their parents get “hands on” with a giant squid.

An exciting new science program, the Young Scientist Club, started this fall at Westlake Elementary. The goal of this program is to expose students to a variety of scientific fields and to spark interest. Wednesday mornings at 7:30, interested students (often with a parent in tow) gather in the Multi-Use Room to hear real scientists share their research and passion for their work in a variety of fields. Each lecture includes a presentation with hands-on or interactive activities.

Lectures to date have included: an astrophysicist discussing the nature of black holes, a computer scientist explaining the complexity of computer programming, an ecologist describing research on invasive species, a psychologist exploring infant development, and a marine biologist dissecting giant squid.  Most of the lecturers are researchers at UCSC and also Westlake parents.

Learning the nuts and bolts of computer programming.

Learning the nuts and bolts of computer programming.

The program is free and open to all students. Gabrielle Prochaska and Deana Tanguay, parents of Westlake students, started the club in October with the support of the principal and the PTA. Initially anticipating between 30 and 50 students, over 175 students signed up to participate.

A full house gathers at 7:30 am on a recent Wednesday.

A full house gathers at 7:30 am on a recent Wednesday.

Feedback from students, parents, and the presenters has been overwhelmingly positive. One parent shared that her son enthusiastically wakes up early on Wednesday mornings announcing that “Wednesday morning science club is my favorite day of the week!” Another father was informed by his daughter that she really wanted to attend the lectures because, “I’m a science girl, Dad”.

The series wraps up in December with a panel of scientists giving advice on creating a good science fair project.

Learning up close with local scientists.

Learning up close with local scientists.

Prochaska already has a waiting list of potential speakers for future lecture series. “We want kids to understand and appreciate what scientists do, and how you can turn a passion into a career,” she said.

If you are interested in replicating this program at your school, please contact us. It is a no cost program for both the school and the students; proximity to the research and faculty at UCSC and their readiness to participate make it viable for all Santa Cruz area schools.