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Partner Highlight: 7th annual Nantucket Science Festival

April 7, 2021

Kim Botelho - Maria Mitchell Association, Nantucket, MA
Logo for the Maria Mitchell Association

Every March, since 2015, the Maria Mitchell Association (MMA) has joined forces with the Nantucket Community School (NCS) to offer an annual Science Festival loaded with hands-on activities for the entire family, a passport to science challenges, door prizes, and more.  This event has grown to be the largest off-season event on the island with over 450 participants.  Since its inception, the event has been completely free of charge thanks to grant funding, sponsorships, donations, and volunteers. Community partnerships are also key to the success of this event. Science-based organizations on the island including the Linda Loring Nature Foundation, Nantucket Conservation Foundation, the Nantucket Land Council, and UMass Boston’s Nantucket Field Station, among others, volunteer their time and resources by providing activity stations at the event.  The Nantucket Community School provides four or five activities each year focused on early childhood education and the Maria Mitchell Association provides eight to ten activity stations for ages 5 and up.  With such a small staff, the only way the MMA has been able to provide so many activity stations is because of NISE Network and the invaluable resource kits they provide. Every year at least four stations are developed from these kits.  Activities have included nanotechnology, synthetic biology, and earth & space science.   

Photo of facilitator and learner looking into ice sphere
Learner looking into a
sphere of ice during
Exploring the Universe:
Ice Orbs
(image courtesy of Maria Mitchell
Association taken pre-COVID)

In 2020, Covid hit the island just a few days before the Nantucket Science Festival was scheduled to take place.  Refusing to cancel the event completely, community partners all rallied together and provided DIY activities for the community. All activities were listed with links to pdf instructions on the Maria Mitchell Association’s website in both English and Spanish and participants were encouraged to post photos or videos on social media.  Activities were left up all year as a resource for teachers, homeschoolers, and families looking for projects to do at home.

As 2020 came to a close, it was clear that the possibility of an in-person event in 2021 was very unlikely.  So, with more time to plan, and a year of experience working virtually, the MMA and NCS were determined to make the event much more robust and engaging than just a list of activities.  In January, they moved full speed ahead to make that happen.  Instead of just a one-day event, the 2021 Nantucket Science Festival took place from March 13-20 and families had an additional week to complete activities, post photos or videos, and fill out a survey to be entered to win prizes on March 29. 

This year, the event included many more opportunities to engage in science throughout the week including:

learners using filters on light
Learners using 
Exploring the Universe:
Filtered Light
(image courtesy of Maria Mitchell
Association taken pre-COVID)
  • FrogWatch citizen science training with the Roger Williams Park Zoo with a live, online Q & A
  • Videos of science activities by the Nantucket Land Council, Nantucket Conservation Foundation, Nantucket Community School, and the Maria Mitchell Association
  • Live online training to use iNaturalist for an island-wide bioblitz with the Linda Loring Nature Foundation
  • A Robot scavenger hunt around town by the Nantucket Community School
  • A beach scavenger hunt followed by a live, online Q & A with the Maria Mitchell Association’s Aquarium Director
  • Take home science kits that families could pick up at local schools and the island’s science discovery playground by the Maria Mitchell Association, Nantucket Community School, and the National Informal STEM Education Network including: marble mazes, gumdrop towers, color explosion, playdough color wheel, electroscope, Alka seltzer rockets, doodle robots, catapults, and a ping pong ball space launcher and lander to celebrate the Perseverance landing
  • Seven interactive, online programs using science kits that were delivered to the schools for every public kindergarten class with the Maria Mitchell Association’s Director of Education
  • A live online reading of What Miss Mitchell Saw with author Hayley Barrett
  • An outdoor storybook walk on robots at the Nantucket Atheneum, the island’s library, in partnership with the Nantucket Community School
  • Three virtual open nights at the Observatory (2 in English, 1 in Spanish) with the Maria Mitchell Association’s Director of Astronomy and Research Fellow
  • DIY activities by the National Informal STEM Education Network, Nantucket Land Council, Maria Mitchell Association, and UMass Boston’s field station
  • An outdoor investigation of evergreens with a field guide by the Nantucket Conservation Foundation 
    Learner blindfolded and being guided during Mars rover activity
    Learner blindfolded and
    being guided during 
    Exploring the Solar System:
    Mars Rovers
    (image courtesy of Maria Mitchell
    Association taken pre-COVID)

This has been an exciting year for the Nantucket Science Festival. The challenges of Covid helped us think more creatively and showed us how this event can be much bigger than just a one-day festival for the island community without a lot of additional effort.  Due to the online nature, we were able to engage participants and presenters from across the country and also incorporated the festival into classroom programs, reaching even more students.  In total, 774 take-home activities were given out around the island and 125 kindergarteners participated in a science festival class. We will use all of this as inspiration to plan the 2022 science festival.  Hopefully, the event will be in-person and virtual for years to come.


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