For its first science night, the Village of Barboursville (W.Va.) Elementary PTO transformed the school’s library into a bug laboratory with hissing cockroaches and the gym into a CSI lab.

The most popular exhibit was led by a group of 9th graders with a passion for science. The high school students brought their favorite hands-on experiments to share with the preK-5 school.

“The interaction between the young students and these high school students was priceless,” says PTO president Jennifer Anderson. “My daughter did not want to leave that room!”

Collaboration among teachers and parents as well as the recruitment of high school students and talented speakers from the community made this event so successful, in fact, that the Village of Barboursville Elementary PTO’s science night earned the award for Outstanding Academics & Enrichment Effort in PTO Today’s 2012 Parent Group of the Year search.

Organizers wanted students and parents to be able to absorb each science lesson. With 700 students at the school, they spread the event over two nights, encouraging families with last names starting with A through M to come the first night, and those with last names starting with N through Z to come the second night. Yet organizers were flexible, and some families came both nights.

Teachers and local science experts filled the school’s classrooms, leading families in experiments and demonstrations. In the cafeteria, kids enjoyed more free-form activities using Legos, magnets, rocks, and fossils, and made models of molecules using toothpicks and marshmallows.

The science night was designed to let families explore. “The school was open, and parents could roam at their leisure to check things out,” says Carol Mariotti, a parent volunteer. “I was happy to be a part of it, because it was just a blast!”

Inspiration came from kindergarten teacher Brenda Bunn, who invited parents to serve on a school science committee. As well, the school was recently named a West Virginia Innovation Zone school with a focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).

“My goal was that parents and child do the activities together,” Bunn says. “Science is sometimes intimidating, but when it’s presented in a way that’s easy to understand, everyone can have fun with it.”

What the judges loved: In addition to putting on a fantastic science event, the PTO bought classroom science kits to support the schoolwide science focus.

Cool fact: One science night presenter uses bugs to create jewelry. She supplies gems to caddisflies, which build protective cases made of small stones while in the larval stage. When a caddisfly leaves its gem-covered protective case, it is made into earrings or a necklace.

Interested in running your own science event? Our free Family Science Night kit has everything you need to run a great event, including planning tips, invitation flyers, and lots of science experiments!