Thursday, August 1, 2013

Science outreach to young school kids

I recently went and did some science demonstrations to several grade 3 classes at the local primary school [elementary school in the USA]. I mostly did it because a friend from church, who is a teacher at the school, asked my wife if we could do it. The students were studying a unit on heat transfer.

Here are a few random observations from the experience.

The kids think scientists are like rock stars! You are so cool!
I was asked to wear the white coat and wild hair and so obliged.

The teachers really appreciate it. I was told I could not do just one or two classes because it would not be fair for some of the teachers and students to miss out! I had to do all!

These kids have had an incredible "diet" of computer games and special effects in movies. But, seeing something simple LIVE such as the baking soda rocket or coke can crush really wows them. They are not at all jaded, unlike the kids in this scene from Big Bang Theory!

The kids love it if they can help. Even, just measuring a temperature from a thermometer.

I really want to avoid the "magic show" dimension and try and communicate something about what science is really about, e.g. taking measurements, keeping records, making comparisons, developing concepts.
I also had a go at the "3 states of matter: gas, liquid, solid" myth by asking them about liquid crystals.
It was impressive how some got the point.

I feel we should all make more of an effort to do this sort of thing.
But, I really only felt could do it because my dear wife took care of all the logistics including all the materials for the demonstrations. My main time investment was showing up on the day. Hence, I am mindful that for many of us it may be unrealistic.

Here are some of the demonstrations
Baking soda rocket using a film canister
Tea bag rocket
Coke can crush


  1. At the university where I work, we have such an outreach program. It's been quite successful for several years now. We have sessions on things like pressure, electricity, waves, colors, even on superconductivity. A levitating superconductor always gets lots of wows. Everyone participates, or at least they are strongly encouraged to. The idea isn't to show magic, but rather to explain and try to understand and predict.

    Most often our visitors are kids from the age of 9 up to the age of 18 (so, young adults). The children younger than 14-15 really love it, and are very eager to participate.
    At the magic age of 14-15 they become much more concerned about what their peers will think of them. If their school is good, they will still be interested and participate, and enjoy. However, it is very different with teenagers from less good schools. Typically the girls are then very quiet and look totally uninterested. The boys on the other hand are loud enough, but often with totally irrelevant comments - just so they can be heard. It seems as though the social pressure can kill curiosity...

    1. Ana,
      Thanks for the observations.
      It is interesting how kids change over time and the significant role of social pressure.

  2. i teach the large lecture hall right now. college kids find it fun also.

  3. Check out Fusion Science Theater. We write shows that use demonstrations to teach and assess chemical concepts.