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Virtual Family Science Events

By Jim McDonald, Katie Demick, and Peyton Kopinski

Posted on 2020-12-18

Elementary and middle school students and preservice teachers need to be scientifically literate, and Family Science Nights are a way to address scientific literacy for these students. Family Science Nights involve students of all ages in high-interest science activities, teach them about how science is done, and help parents know how their children are learning in school. 

The rapid transition from hands-on science experiences to virtual learning in the wake of COVID-19 has given teachers little to no time for planning and preparation. Challenging pedagogical issues must still be addressed, particularly regarding the best way to educate K–12 students in an online science learning environment. One way to provide engaging science for students is to hold a virtual Family Science Event. That is what the NSTA student chapter at Central Michigan University (CMU) organized for local schools. The chapter created a series of experiment videos and the directions for each activity.

Virtual Family Science events can consist of one science activity or a series of activities that parents and students can do together at home. Priority should be given to providing different activities with which students can engage. A good Family Science activity should be hands-on, interactive, engaging, and visually stimulating; last about five minutes; and be doable by parents and children.  

Supplies for the activities are simple, usually consumable, easy to obtain, and easy for children to use. Some sample activities for Family Science Nights can include flying machines, Oobleck, sink and float, aluminum boats, Mystery Solutions, Kitchen Chemistry, balloon rockets, and building structures. Every activity should also have a parent sheet (see supplemental materials link below) that tells parents the recipe for the activity and extensions that can be done at home after the event. 

While it may appear that Family Science Nights offer “fun” and “quick” activities, these events can be structured to align with science teaching connected to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Rather than a random set of stations or activities to promote the appeal and excitement of science, Family Science Nights can integrate a deeper appreciation for the “what do you see, what do you think, what do you wonder” of science learning.

Family Science Nights can be organized with themes that use natural phenomena or NGSS standards, practices, and outcomes that a school would like to promote. For example, the event could be organized around Earth, life, or physical science standards. In a rural community, the activities could center on habitats and have students plan, design, write about, and draw a habitat for animals close to them.  

These events can promote science literacy and integration by having students collaborate with one another on their habitats and write about how their habitat benefits the animals and other organisms that live there. Common Core English Language Arts and Math Standards could also be incorporated in activities to show how science is related to other subjects by using children’s literature and having students do graphing, write out explanations, and read informational text.

Under normal circumstances, members of CMU's NSTA student chapter would go to local elementary schools to hold Family Science events as their service project. Since that is not possible due to the pandemic, we rethought our approach and made the event virtual. The student chapter members organized a packet of 14 different activities that parents could do with their children and sent it to local schools that have been our partners for many years. Each activity lists the ingredients and directions so that families can do them at home. The ingredients are common items and likely include what families already have on hand at home.

We would like to share our activities with NSTA members so that your parents and children can also do them at home. These activities have been prepared for elementary students, but they are adaptable for other grade levels. The preservice science students created a YouTube channel of Family Science activities. The packet that accompanies the activities can be accessed here.

We invite your feedback and comments on our activities. E-mail Jim McDonald at

Jim McDonaldJim McDonald is professor of science education at Central Michigan University (CMU) in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. He is the faculty advisor for the NSTA student chapter at CMU and teaches elementary science methods to preservice teachers.  


Katie Demick is the former president of CMU’s NSTA student chapter and a secondary preservice teacher majoring in Integrated Science.  

Peyton Kopinski has been the secretary of NSTA-CMU and is an elementary preservice teacher majoring in Integrated Science.

General Science Instructional Materials Literacy Mathematics NGSS Preservice Science Education Teaching Strategies Middle School Elementary Pre-service Teachers

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