Several years ago, I had heard about another school’s Math and Science Night: experiments, hands-on learning, STEM games for families…. I knew I had to start one at my kids’ school! I mentioned it to some other parents- who loved the idea- and decided to ask the school for permission to put on our first Math and Science Night. It was volunteer run, super fun for kids, and all in all a successful night! Here’s how I organized our elementary school’s first Math and Science Night.
Step 1: Gaining Approval and Support
The planning steps might seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t need to feel that way. Here are some questions to think about and ask your principal and/or PTO:
Has there been any previous Math and Science Night? This was our first time, so no one had prior experience. But if your schools has done one in the past, get in contact with the organizer!
Are there any funds available for supplies for the evening? If not, can you get supplies donated from parents, or will you need a fundraiser beforehand? Our first year, we came up with a master list of supplies needed, and created a sign-up genius list where parents could sign up to bring supplies. I had a group of parents who sorted the supplies on the stage in our cafeteria, into the different activities. We had a budget of $150 to buy extras such as the squishy circuit materials.
Who are your natural allies within the school and among the parents? How can you bring on more supporters? We worked with teachers, the math specialist, and formed a committee of parents knowledgeable about math and science.
What space are you permitted to use? We were given access to certain classrooms, the library, the cafeteria, the gym, and the outdoor pavement. In other schools, the tables were set up exclusively around the cafeteria.
Who will be in charge of planning the event, and running the event? How much contribution of time and resources do you expect from each group? For example, what roles will the following groups play: teachers, parent volunteers, volunteers from high school clubs and groups, scouts? In our school, I worked with teachers to write a list of math concepts per grade, and then researched fun and diverse activities for the different grades. Parents on my committee helped me get donations for supplies, and high schoolers needing service hours manned the stations. On the night of the event, teachers supervised, but the teens ran a lot of the activities.
Is there a way to involve the wider community? Think about inviting university groups and clubs, local experts, local businesses. Some ideas to consider:
local gardening clubs to bring in compost
local astronomy club to set up telescopes in the playground outside
high school or university robotics clubs to show off their creations
biology students to set up microscopes for viewing
local businesses that offer science/math classes can bring in a sample activity they offer
science museums often have touch table displays with hands on exhibits such as fossils or simple machines
zoos or animal sanctuaries could set up animal booths
engineering clubs to set up building challenges or virtual reality stations, etc.
How many activity stations will you have? Keep in mind the space available, the number of volunteers needed, and the amount of families/participants anticipated.
Will you offer food or snacks that evening? We have found families really appreciate to have a food truck in the parking lot, or pizza being sold in the cafeteria, especially for parents coming from work and kids coming from other activities who haven’t had a chance to eat.
Step 2: Planning the Games and STEM Activities for your Math and Science Night!
I did SO much research on the best activities for our Math and Science Night. A lot of my ideas are saved on my Math Math Math! pinterest board and my Kid Scientists pinterest board. I wanted to include a variety of math and science concepts, accessible to lower grades (K-2) and then others to appeal to the upper grades (3-5).
For math, we prepared the the following 10 math activities (all available in the packet here). The activities and games are included with instruction sheets, materials list, and printable sheets and scoresheets:
1. Chutes and Ladders Game (addition/subtraction 0-20)
2. Shape Architect (shapes, vertex, edge, face)
3. Perimeters in Pieces (perimeters, measurement)
4. Horse Races (with dice; addition or multiplication)
5. Tangrams (shapes, spatial reasoning)
6. Math Races (mental math, addition/subtraction)
7. Fractions in Baking (adding and subtracting fractions)
8. Logic Game (strategy)
9. 100s Dice Game (choose to play with addition, subtraction, multiplication or division depending on level)
10. Decimal Riddles (decimals, fractions)
The following 12 science activities and games are included in the packet here, with instruction sheets, materials list, and printable sheets:
1. Kitchen Chemistry (predictions, acid/base chemical reactions)
2. Balloon Blow-Up (observations, acid/base chemical reaction)
3. Fly a Helicopter! (forces of flight, trial and error)
4. Make Ice Cream! (states of matter)
5. Buoyancy Boats (floating, sinking, buoyancy)
6. A-MAZE-ing Q-tips (angles, engineering)
7. Squishy Circuits (electrical energy, circuits)
8. Tower Challenges (engineering, physics)
9. Save Fred! (flowcharts/sequencing of operations, problem solving, teamwork)
10. Mining Cookies (problem solving, using tools, charting results)
11. Penny Problems (structural engineering, teamwork)
12. Seeking Seeds! (plant biology, adaptations, bar graphs, percentages)
Step 3: Prepping the Materials
We used Sign-Up Genius to ask parents for donations for the materials. We also used it to ask for volunteers to help sort supplies and get them into correct rooms the days before, to help run the evening program at the sign-in table, as hallway monitors, and for clean-up, and to help return supplies the following day during school. Materials needed in these activities are not expensive, but we planned on at least 100 kids doing each activity. Each activity has the materials needed, and can be multiplied by how many kids you anticipate coming (remember, not every child will do every activity). It is helpful to buy in bulk; for example I bought the French Vanilla Coffee Mate below (for an ice cream making activity) in a huge pack of almost 200 for under $20.
Here's how we made ice cream for math and science night (and talked about states of matter). Put some individual vanilla creamers in a snack baggie. Place that baggie inside a bigger one with ice and salt. Shake for around 10 minutes and you'll freeze it and get ice cream! The kids looooved it. #teachersoninstagram #teachersfollowteachers #STEM
- Decide which classrooms you are using and number them.
- In the cafeteria, separate the materials into piles for each activity, and label them with the destination classroom (we kept our labelled piles on the stage behind the curtains until the actual Math and Science Night).
- Some of the materials we needed were to be returned to their owners after the event (we borrowed blocks from kindergarten, cookie sheets from the cafeteria, dice from 2nd grade, etc). Keep a list and make sure they are labelled clearly so you can return them to their owners.
- The afternoon of the event, deliver the materials into each classroom for the volunteers to set up.
- In the lobby or cafeteria, set up a sign-in sheet. We used a bar graph with boxes in each of the labelled grades for kids to sign in on, so we could display it later with the numbers of attendees per grade. Math is everywhere!
Step 4: The Night of the Event!
The night of the event flies by, and really you are just running around making sure everything is running smoothly. I had a separate check-in for volunteers to come an hour earlier, so they could learn about their activities and become familiar with the materials. I was astounded by the high schoolers- they really took over their rooms, were super funny and kind with the younger kids, and allowed the adults (teachers and parents) to become observers. There were some spills I had to clean up, and questions that arose, running to get more ice for the ice cream room- but all in all, it was fun to watch the kids’ faces light up as they did their experiments and games. It was an excellent way to get parents and families in the school for an enrichment night, and I highly recommend it for all elementary schools!
If you are interested in purchasing the Math and Science Night packet I’ve made, here is what is included. What I’ve chosen are hands-on, interactive games that can be easily adapted for different levels, with easy set up and clean up. Games are appropriate and fun for preK through 5th grade, and practice a variety of math and science STEM skills.