A NEED for science

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Last school year, Our Lady of Good Counsel science lab teacher Samantha Forbes started a club to encourage students to think about technology and its interaction with the environment. About 20 students signed up for the Science Club and its twice-monthly meetings.

Forbes, who earned a bachelor's in natural resources and environmental sciences from the University of Illinois and a master's in education from Marymount University in Arlington, said she developed a love of science from a program her middle and junior high school participated in called the National Energy Education Development, or NEED project. Her father worked for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and her mother was a school teacher, so science education was a natural career path for her.

The Science Club met in the lab, and in the first half of the school year, they ran experiments like changing dry-ice to a gas and using fruit and vegetables to generate electricity.

"They were eye-catching experiments," said Forbes, adding that they were something that would keep the attention of children 8- to 11- years old.

The group elected officers - a president, vice president and secretary.

After Christmas vacation that year, she asked her students if they would want to do some environmental science experiment. The students liked the idea.

The club assessed the fluorescent lighting at the school to figure out if they were the old and inefficient technology (magnetic ballast), or newer and efficient technology (electric ballast.)

They used meters to measure the electrical efficiency of everyday school supplies such as electric pencil sharpeners.

They put together a PowerPoint presentation that listed the goals of their study and if they were achieved. The project summary also was sent to the NEED project for award consideration.

The school won the Virginia Elementary School of the Year award and national honors - the Outstanding Project Recognition award.

The school is beginning to implement Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering and Mathematics or STREAM. It's an evolution of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics program, or STEM program. The religious aspect of the program for the Science Club is care for the environment as Pope Francis called for in his encyclical "Laudato Si'."

This year, the Science Club grew to 35 members. The members decided to concentrate on outreach to the community and the school on energy issues. Club members first educated themselves on energy and how to conserve it, and then taught other students.

"Kids teaching kids," said Forbes.

They also cleaned up the school grounds.

The club decided to teach the community about energy conservation with a Family Energy Night on Earth Day, April 21, which drew people who saw exhibits on recycling, ecology presentations and games.

Science Club President and fifth-grader Jack Gillespie presented the project to the Parent Teacher Organization.

Again, a PowerPoint presentation of their goals and successes was submitted to the NEED project.

And for the second year in a row, they won the Virginia Elementary School of the Year award, and will pick up their award June 27 at a ceremony in Washington.

Parent Meg Gillespie said, "Ms. Forbes commitment to share her love of science with her students has provided a large group of OLGC students with a fun and educational after-school program that they should all feel proud of."

Forbes often quotes Pope Benedict XVI's 2008 address at World Youth Day when talking about caring for the environment.

"The wonder of God's creation reminds us of the need to protect the environment," the pope said, "and to exercise responsible stewardship of the goods of the earth."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016