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Durham Elementary tackles science, tech with STEM Night

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Durham Elementary School Principal Rhett Boudreau watches as third-grader Gabrielle Cooper,8, tests gravity by watching plastic cylinders with different weights in them fall to the floor. Boudreau manned the booth  Messing with Gravity at the STEM night event at the school on Friday.The crowd of people at Durham Elementary School on Friday night was so large that there was barely room to stand.

Hundreds of parents and students attended the school’s annual STEM Night on Feb. 26,

The night was a way to expose students to STEM, science, technology, engineering and math.

Nicole Emerson, who teaches kindergarten at the school, has been putting on fun science-filled evenings for the past five years. Known as Science Night, the evenings were a way to get kids more interested in studying the natural world, she said.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Tyler Walker, a freshman at Tigard High School and a member of the robotics team, watches as fifth-grader Kevin Rojas operate a robot during STEM night event at Durham Elementary School on Friday.“I hope that they feel like science, tech, engineering — it’s something anybody can do and it’s fun,” she said. “Science is all around us in the world. All you need is an open, questioning mind and a willingness to want to explore and you’re a scientist.”

The night included appearances by Tigard High School robotics students and Twality Middle School students, as well as a few live animals, with a wallaby from Canby’s Walk on the Wild Side making an appearance for kids to pet.

When Emerson started Science Night five years ago, it had only a handful of experiments.

“It started out small,” she said. “There was a 45-minute assembly and then 45 minutes of activities. But it’s gotten a bigger and bigger turnout each year.

Using a combination of Parent School Organization funds and district money for STEM activities, the annual Science Night has morphed into a large affair aimed at getting students excited about math and science.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Allison Hajdu-Paulen and her daughter, Margaret, a second-grader at Durham Elementary School, look at a solar power experiment by a student during STEM night event at the school on Friday.“We started with five tables of activities. This year we have 21 activities spread all over the school,” Emerson said.

Anna Southards, a Durham fourth-grade teacher, said that getting kids excited about math and science can be difficult.

“It’s hard as a teacher, because you have so little time,” Southards said. “With the new standards, we don’t have a lot of time to do cool projects with math and science. I hope the kids realize that it’s fun to do math and science and there’s a lot that you can do with it.”

The school gets very excited about STEM Night, Emerson said. The school’s morning announcements include science trivia questions each morning for weeks before the event.

“We have probably two months focused on STEM here,” Emerson said.

The school couples the event with its annual science fair, with students given the option to participate in the annual fair, showing off their projects to friends and family during the annual Science Night.

“The students at Durham are really interested in science,” said Mike McInnis, whose daughter Olivia is in second grade at the school. “Every time they have an extracurricular activity involving STEM, it’s always a huge turnout.”

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Durham Elementary School Principal Rhett Boudreau demonstrates gravity with a bowling ball during a STEM night event at the school on Friday.McInnis said his family enjoyed the evening out together.

“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “We all really enjoyed it.”

Olivia’s experiment — how pennies react to different carbonated soft drinks — was a fun way to learn about science, McInnis said, and taught his daughter important lessons about science.

“We put pennies in Coke and waited 24 hours,” she said. “Some got darker and some got lighter. Next time, I want to soak the pennies longer, to see if I get better results.”

A school bus drove to local apartment buildings to pick up families that didn’t have transportation to the event, Southard said.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Hunter Hendriksen, red jacket, a second-grader at Durham Elementary School, shows his mom, Tiffany, and his grandma, Joyce Goiter, top, write code at a computer during STEM night event at the school on Friday.“I don’t know if they would have been able to come otherwise,” she said.

About 30 families took the school bus to the event.

“Nobody had an excuse,” Southards joked. “Everybody had to come.”

Emerson said that getting kids excited about math and science at a young age is a great way to make lifelong thinkers.

That’s worked for Olivia.

“I like science, because it helps you figure out new things,” she said.

Southards said she’s expecting even more families to attend next year.

“Word is spreading,” she said. “It’s a great night.”