American Museum of Natural History hosts middle school science fair

If you plan to show off your science research, the American Museum of Natural History isn’t a bad place to do it — and that goes for New York City’s middle schoolers and seasoned scientists alike.

Urban Advantage’s middle school science program pairs students and teachers with some of the top cultural institutions in the city to help them delve into research projects.

The program, in its 14th year, ends with a science fair like no other. On Saturday, more than 900 students from city middle schools gathered under the museum’s iconic model blue whale with experiments and presentation boards in tow.

“We are awakening a sense of wonder and curiosity,” said Ellen Futter, president of the American Museum of Natural History, which helped launch the program with the city’s Department of Education.

Urban Advantage is part of a local and national campaign to get more students — especially young women — engaged in STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math. While focused on middle school students, a smaller pilot project is also targeting elementary school kids.

“If we don’t gain student interest and retain it at the middle school level, they fall out of the science pipeline for high school, college and jobs,” Futter said. “That’s where a lot of the jobs are going forward.

“That doesn’t mean they will all be scientists,” she added. “But there are so many related jobs in the health, technology and other fields.”

She pointed out that teacher training is key because in New York, like many other places, science teachers are not always trained to teach the subject.

Other institutions involved in the program include the New York Hall of Science in Queens, the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bronx Zoo, the New York Aquarium in Coney Island and the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx.

“These institutions have significant resources available to public schools,” Futter said. “It’s a way of expanding the walls of the schoolhouse.”

Lisbeth Azcona and Layla Abreu, eighth-graders at MS 210Q, the Elizabeth Blackwell School in Ozone Park, proudly displayed their work on “The Effect of Electricity on Different Solutions” at the American Museum of Natural History on Saturday.

“In school you can only present it to your friends and a couple of teachers,” said Lisbeth. “Here, anybody can come in and ask about your project and how long it took and how you did it. It’s so exciting.”

Other projects included the role of body weight on lung capacity, a comparison of noise pollution at different locations, and the cooling effects of mint on body temperature.

Robin Ransom, a sixth-grade science teacher at Junior High School 217 in Briarwood, said Urban Advantage helps students develop hypothesis, use resources and pull it all together.

“It’s an invaluable resource in getting them to be motivated to learn,” she said.