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6/1/2018 12:34:00 PM
Science program for elementary students run by parents expands in Munster

Meredith Colias-Pete, Post-Tribune

After budget cuts hit Munster schools a few years ago, two Elliot Elementary parents wanted to make sure kids still got hands-on experience with science.

When a district-wide elementary science teacher was cut, both Paul Rotatori and Rob Kent were concerned students wouldn’t be as exposed to kid-friendly fundamentals.

They looked for inspiration from their employer at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.

Their solution was to offer a “Science and Engineering Day” where students from kindergarten to fifth-grade could participate in multiple volunteer-run stations with experiments and activities that each demonstrated different scientific principles.

Many activities were modeled from the Museum’s Summer Brain Games, said Rotatori, who works in its human resources department.

Their first theme at Elliot two years ago was space-based, he said.

As their idea grew, they expanded this year to all three Munster elementary schools, Frank H. Hammond, Eads and Elliot. Stations were manned by 90 parent volunteer across three schools.

This year, the theme was engineering.

“We decided we could basically take the same concept and do it at other elementary schools,” Rotatori said. “I want them to know that science is cool and that everyone is a scientist.

“That’s our main goal,” he said. “We start young and they know all this cool stuff is out there.”

At Eads, 10 stations were set up including a toy earthquake simulator where kids built a block building that fell apart when the foundation rocked, another one mimicked how landscaping could prevent soil erosion. At a third station, kids could build a solar oven to cook pizza or s’mores.

Others demonstrated how mini-wind turbines worked or used a water filtration to clean dirty water, said Stephanie Czapka, the school’s PTO vice president and a former elementary school teacher who helped organize it.

“One of our big points was that science and engineering do things to improve lives, but then they also sometimes cause problems,” she said. “So, then scientists and engineers have to go back and figure out how to solve some of those new problems that they created.”

The cost of putting everything together was about $2,500, Rotatori said. Most funds came from Milhouse Engineering & Construction with an additional grant from the Munster Education Foundation. They also received some supplies from the Museum of Science and Industry, he said.

Rotatori and Kent said they set up parent volunteers to run stations with as much information as possible, including open-ended questions for varying ages and what basics students should be learning.

“This is like what the museum does,” Rotatori said.

Eads Principal Linda Bevil said she would welcome the program back next year.

The idea is to “plant ideas in their head,” Kent said, who works in the museum’s collections department. Pushing the importance and “how it can improve the world we live in.”

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