Tuesday, September 14, 2004
Steamboat Springs It only took one assembly for Brian Jones to learn that middle school students just aren't very interested in watching a teacher perform a science experiment; they'd much rather do the experimenting themselves.
It was in that spirit that Jones, a physics professor at Colorado State University, helped to establish the Little Shop of Physics program, a traveling display of about 80 hands-on science experiments that touched down in Steamboat Springs on Tuesday.
Jones, a CSU physics department colleague and several CSU students spent the day at Steamboat Springs Middle School, where the classrooms of science teachers Brad Kindred and Ben Barbier were transformed into colorful physics labs dotted with dozens of homemade experiments.
Students played with superball supernovas, horseshoe magnets, a "flippin' air flow funnel" and a variety of other experiments geared not just to teach scientific principles and concepts but to show children that science can be fun.
"There's no worksheets and there's no set curriculum," Barbier said. "It just gets them excited about science."
Indeed, the rotating classes of students spent most of their time moving from station to station, excitedly calling friends over to share enjoyable and intriguing experiments, such as the wave machine, a simple device made from a fan motor, a pulley and a long piece of ball chain, or lamp cord.
Using a piece of PVC pipe, students manipulated the rotating chain into patterns of waves and other unique designs. The concept behind the experiment is momentum -- a stationary chain can be manipulated but will immediately return to its original shape when the pipe is removed. When the chain is moving along the fan motor, however, any manipulations will remain in place until the chain is moved again.
"It's so simple," Jones said. "Yet it makes the concept of momentum real."
Looking around the classrooms, Jones, Kindred and Barbier were thrilled with the level of interest exhibited by all of their students.
"It's just fantastic," Jones said. "They're really experimenting and learning things. This is the hardest age of kids to teach because there's so much going on in their lives."
Kindred said the program helped emphasize some of the science concepts his classes have been studying, and it did so in a way that interested students.
"I think it really brings it home for our kids," Kindred said. "What I saw was true inquiry-based science. That's exactly what we want them to do -- get involved with it."
Eighth-graders Shelby Kassel and Mikole Masciantonil studied the veins in their arms using a black-and-white security camera and an infrared light.
"They're really fun," Kassel said about the experiments. "It's even fun for some people who aren't into science."
The Steamboat stop came at the end of Little Shop of Physics' latest tour, called "Please Try This at Home." The next tour, for which some of the experiments were brought to the middle school, is called "Seeing the World in a Different Light." The project travels every Tuesday to schools across the state.
-- To reach Brent Boyer call 871-4234
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