Earlier this month, our eighth graders presented their experiments at Harlem Academy’s fourth annual science fair. While this year’s virtual event may have looked different, the quality of our students’ work met the same high standards.
“Generating science experiments in a virtual, socially-distanced format is difficult, and our eighth graders did an incredible job,” says middle school science teacher Dr. Eric James.
Students recorded digital presentations that were shown online and responded to questions submitted by our school community as part of their follow-up homework. Their topics ran the gamut from technology to wellbeing: Will using your phone in grayscale reduce screen time? Does following a structured morning routine increase productivity?
To find the answers to these and other questions, students applied the scientific method – a process they begin learning in first grade. Harlem Academy’s science program focuses on teaching students to understand and apply the scientific method with increasing independence. By the time they reach eighth grade, students form their own hypotheses and design experiments to test them.
Eighth grader Micaela, who tested the impact of grayscale on screen time, reflected on how much she gained from the process of designing and conducting her experiment independently. “Dr. James is there if we have questions, but he pushes us to take the lead. It was up to me to use what I’ve learned to figure things out on my own, and the scientific method was my guide,” she says. “That’s an important skill to have as I head to Riverdale this fall.”
Micaela came up with the idea for her experiment because of the pandemic. “Life has changed so much, and we’re on our phones constantly for entertainment and to connect with family and friends. Kids my age are used to seeing things in color, and I wanted to know if switching to grayscale would make us spend less time on our phones.” The answer? Yes.
Classmate Chaeli wanted to find out if practicing a morning routine would increase productivity throughout the day. “I was confident that it would, and it felt good to prove my hypothesis,” she says.
As Dr. James explains, “Science projects are an amazing opportunity for students to learn to think critically about science through hands-on inquiry. It also requires them to synthesize new information, develop and enhance their analytical, organizational, and time management skills, and gain better command of data.”
Chaeli agrees: “Conducting these science experiments and having the chance to present your work makes you a better student. We had real ownership of our projects. That gives you a sense of independence – a feeling of ‘I can do this!’”
Thank you to the Harry Winston Hope Foundation and Con Edison for sponsoring our middle school science program.