"Barnard Swings into Science Fair Season"

Published: March 27, 2008. New Haven Independent

Tatiana Naylor pondered a question from outer space: Will basil seeds exposed to zero gravity in space grow more quickly than the ordinary earthbound variety?

Naylor had a more earthbound matter on her mind, too: the upcoming citywide science fair. Like hundreds of public schoolers, she's gearing up to submit an entry for the fair, which takes place in mid-May.

First experiments must win laurels at individual school fairs. The competition at science-based Barnard Environmental Interdistrict Magnet School, where Tatiana is a third grader in Kelly Dearborne's class, is intense.

Add to that an atmosphere of nervous if hopeful expectation system-wide because NHPS's fifth and eighth graders took the first-ever CMTs in science this month - with the results expected in the summer.


Four times a year Marjorie Drucker, the magnet resource teacher, organizes a round-up where all the grades share what they are doing. That is a whole lot and at the round-up all the grades share what they are doing.

"It's a little like a science town hall," said Drucker, the 2008 Connecticut Science Teacher Association's middle school science teacher of the year. She showed a reporter what a month-old Atlantic salmon, called an alevin, looks like. Drucker, who started the school's tradition of raising hundreds of Atlantic salmon, said that the tradition includes the third-graders releasing the salmon into 8-Mile River near Niantic later in the spring.


At the morning edition of the round-up, Jayson Hutchinson (on the right) and Luis Diaz, with one of their kindergarten teachers, Kristen Hebert, were dressed up as fry with a large eye, which are what baby salmon are called when they are about three months old. (An alevin is about a month old.) Of all that he'd learned about salmon, Luis said he was most impressed "with how they eat their tummy yolk." That is, at birth they seem to carry their own food for two weeks while hiding in the rocks so as not to get eaten.

These small fry (sorry!) sang the Salmon Song for their older colleagues at the morning edition of the round-up. (The charming chorus will be the reader's reward if you continue to the end of this article.)

Drucker explained that each grade at Barnard is assigned an animal to study as its theme.

"All the assigned animals migrate," she said, "so that the kids can learn as they study the effect of human beings on the animals." One of the key goals of the curriculum--Barnard fulfills all the city and state requirements through a focus on environmental science--is to teach human stewardship of the natural world.


At the afternoon session of the environmental round-up, the fourth graders were explaining how sea turtles use the same nesting beaches for thousands of years. They are apparently easily disturbed by lights and noise meaning, for example, from hotels built too close to a beautiful shore.

"If the turtles get confused" cautioned this young man, "they can crawl off the wrong way, and die."

Other classes were studying electricity: how a circuit works, what are the best materials for conduction, and how a CFL bulb and a standard incandescent bulb compare . You know the answer, and so did Barnard's kids. Ms. Drucker said that their school is going to raise a little money perhaps in the later spring selling not candy, but CFL bulbs.

Several other classes were raising Swiss chard, parsley and other plants in "grow boxes." Their teacher started a blog about grow boxes, and kids in Chicago and in Ghana, who obtained their grow boxes from the same donor, are now exchanging notes on their observations.


The curriculum at this school is such a hit, that the mom of the young man on the right, Joshua Watson, decided to start an after school program called Roots & Shoots. Based on a national model developed by primatologist, Jane Goodall. The kids, said Shari Watson of Seymour, tell how they see littering: "Hey, pick that up, or we in Roots & Shoots will have to." She said her son and his pals--here doing a skit about the value of throwing only a single starfish back into the sea--have cleaned up the school lot. They plan to do a clean up down by the West River. They also have a lot of fun with animals and have a kind of mini-clubhouse at some secret location in the school where they have collected a leopard gecko, a crested gecko, and also a uromasyrx mallensis, which is an African lizard that hardly breaks a sweat at 130 degrees.

Barnard's school science fair will be in April; the one at Celentano is opening Thursday morning. Then surviving competitors will move on to the citywide (click here for more info) in mid-May. There are expected to be some 250 projects, each with a volunteer mentor from the business or science community of Greater New Haven, and some 900 kids in total are expected to participate, according to Richard Therrien, the K-12 science coordinator.


Will the basil seeds from space--which Marjorie Drucker brought to Barnard thanks to NASA--have grown by then right into the stratosphere?

Come to the science fair to find out, and, before that, to the Connecticut Science Teacher Association ceremony honoring Marjorie Drucker at the Lawn Club on April 30.

Perhaps, when she receives her award, she will sing the chorus from the salmon song promised above:

 

Salmon, I would like to go with you

I would like to swim the ocean blue

Salmon, will you come back home again

To the place where life begins and ends

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