At SciFest, learning scientific principles was fun
Learning scientific principles can be a stodgy task for children, but not at SciFest where kids could apply those principles to roller coasters, robots and more.
In the program "Warning: Children at Play," small groups worked to engineer and build roller coasters, using everyday materials such as paper towel rolls, tape, tin cans, marbles and foam insulation tubes.
As they tried to solve the problems of getting a marble to stay on the track until the end of the ride, they worked with scientific principles such as force, gravity and motion. But they thought they were having fun, not learning arcane principles.
They even sounded a lot like real scientists. As Willie Neal of Compton Drew School put it, "Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't."
Another engineering activity introduced fourth and fifth graders to robots. They learned about a University of Missouri camp where children build Lego robots, and got to play with them a bit. They learned that making a robot do your bidding is not automatic.
In the photo at right you can see that Marcus McDonald of Compton-Drew School gets all twisted up trying to make his robot move in response to hand claps and touch.
"The Science of Vegetables," presented by Monsanto, used corn to introduce subjects like DNA, tissue culture and plant embryos. Student teams raced to see who could extract the most embryos from corn kernels in one minute, before moving to a mini-farm area or a bank of microscopes.
No visit to the Science Center is complete without a visit to the dinosaur area. The hands-on sessions included four activities. At different times, the children handled real dinosaur bones and fossils, studied camouflage and learned how erosion shapes dino bone deposits. "Build a Dino," pictured here, had students assemble the skeleton of a small raptor, using "bones" cast from a real skeleton.
Missing from most of the sessions: boredom and bad behavior. These kids were having too much fun learning about their world.
Jo Seltzer is a freelance writer with more than thirty years on the research faculty at the Washington University School of Medicine and seven years teaching tech writing at WU's engineering school. To reach her, contact Beacon health editor Sally J. Altman.