Cape Elizabeth grant seeds day-long science festival

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CAPE ELIZABETH — The middle school will be hosting a day-long science event with the help of a grant from the Cape Elizabeth Education Foundation.

The Festival of Curiosity, an interactive, hands-on day of learning, will take place June 2, 2017. CEEF donated $3,000 for the event after CEMS Principal Mike Tracy applied for a grant.

“We’re really excited about it,” CEEF Co-President Liz McEvoy said. “We realize the importance STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) is playing in the schools today.”

The grant for the festival was one of two awards made by CEEF last month during its fall grant cycle. The other grant, which was just under $1,200, was awarded to the high school to buy sound equipment for the music room.

The Festival of Curiosity was started last school year by parent Jill Abrahamsen, who is also organizing the June event. The first festival was held after school for two hours, but this year’s event will occur all day during school hours.

“I think it’s a different way to expose kids to science,” Abrahamsen said. “Especially at the end of the year, they’re getting restless.”

There will be 39 different stations set up at the festival, each featuring a different type of science or activity. The stations will be run by teachers, volunteers and representatives from the Portland Science Center, the Boston Museum of Science, and other local organizations.

“We need the scientists, tinkerers and engineers, especially those who are retired, to come out and help for the day,” Abrahamsen said.

Stations will include things such as dissection, robotics, hovercrafts, coding, forensic DNA, astrophysics, marine science, 3-D printing, and more. The CEEF grant will help pay for equipment and for the fees required by the various museums and organizations that will be in attendance.

Tracy and Abrahamsen said they plan to raise an additional $3,000 through corporate sponsors and individual donations. If they succeed, CEEF will match the amount and give an additional $2,000 on top of the $3,000 already granted.

McEvoy said she and the rest of CEEF are excited to be able to assist in making the festival a possibility. 

“The idea to expose so many students to STEAM in such a fun way seemed like a great project for CEEF to get behind,” she said.

Tracy said he’s glad the festival is coming together as he and Ambrahamsen, as well as a committee of parent volunteers, have been envisioning. He said it’s important for middle school students to have hands-on learning experiences.

“These kids are like sponges,” he said. “They soak this up.”

Abrahamsen said seeing science experiments as opposed to learning about them gives kids a different perspective. She said the festival offers a way for students to discover an interest in science.

“Sometimes kids aren’t sure if they like science,” she said. “They need to see it. It’s a way to hook kids in that you can’t always do in the classroom.”

The hope is to have something that will interest everyone. All students are required to participate in the festival, but the day doesn’t come with any formal testing or grading. 

Tracy said while the festival will incorporate some of the students’ regular curriculum, the event will be about asking questions instead of looking for an answer. He said this will encourage curiosity, as the name of the festival entails. 

“It promotes the idea that it’s not always about finding the right answer,” he said. “It’s about sparking wonder.”

Abrahamsen said she hopes students realize there are multiple ways of thinking that are involved in science.

“A lot of this is trying something and, if it doesn’t work, try again,” she said.

The idea of finding various ways to do something is also evident in the structure of the festival. Abrahamsen and Tracy said the festival presents students with a way of learning that is much different than how they learn in a classroom. 

“I think it’s important to promote the idea of experimentation and innovation, which sparks their curiosity,” Tracy said. “It’s about engagement and getting kids excited about learning.”

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

Cape Elizabeth Middle School will be hosting a science event called Festival of Curiosity next June.

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I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.