Bringing science to life Education: A traveling troupe from the Maryland Science Center launches a tour of 180 elementary and middle schools around the state, sharing its enthusiasm and inspiring students to learn more.

September 15, 1997|By Erin Texeira | Erin Texeira,SUN STAFF

In the hands of a traveling troupe from the Maryland Science Center, chemical equations become oozing foam and billowing clouds, gurgling liquids and gooey substances -- very good stuff to elementary schoolchildren.

The experiments produce wide eyes, squeals of delight and a zeal for science not always evident among youngsters.

"Wow, this stuff is so cool. Big time," said Jessica Schroyer, 9, a fourth-grader at Howard County's Lisbon Elementary School, where two members of the Traveling Science Program put on their show for about 250 fourth- and fifth-graders last week.

"Science would be a fun class if it was like this every day," Jessica said. "I could take it four times a day if it was like this."

Lisbon was the first stop on the 13-school Howard County leg of a tour that will take program presenters to Baltimore and Somerset counties next week, eventually to 180 schools in Maryland, Washington and parts of Pennsylvania before school is over next summer.

With an audience sitting cross-legged on the floor of the school cafeteria at Lisbon, presenters Brian Kortman and Nicole Hord put on the program, "What's the Matter? Chemistry with Fizz, Foam and Flash."

They provided a solid hour of laughs and gasps to rival the best of Nickelodeon and the Discovery Channel combined.

When Kortman poured boiling water over liquid nitrogen, puffs of clouds gurgled forth. Children wriggled and reached to touch the quickly evaporating mists.

Later, Hord mixed liquid latex with water and turned it into a new substance, a polymer.

When Hord pointed out that it resembled a substance fourth-graders usually wipe off their noses onto their sleeves, the audience of 9- and 10-year-olds giggled and elbowed one another throughout the cafeteria.

"Remember, kids, this is an example of a physical change, right?" she asked.

They nodded, eyes wide, and waited for the next demonstration.

Employees from the Maryland Science Center in the Inner Harbor have been hitting the road to entertain and teach children science lessons since it opened in the mid-1970s, said Terry Nixon, director of the Traveling Science Program.

About five years ago, the program was supplemented with the help of an annual $100,000 state General Assembly grant. Since then, the science enthusiasts who present the one-hour programs have spoken to hundreds of thousands of students -- about 115,000 last year alone.

They spend most days during the school year in elementary and middle schools. When school is out, they visit libraries, recreation centers and summer camps.

"We realize that many schools can't afford to take a field trip out to the museum," Nixon said. "We want to reach out and get kids excited about science, show students and teachers science can be fun."

The program, which includes a portable planetarium for astronomy lessons, has three minivans and eight employees.

By all accounts, the employees enjoy the presentations as much the children do.

"I absolutely, positively love my job," said Hord, who has done more than 500 school presentations and trains new presenters. "It doesn't get boring, that's for sure."

At Lisbon Elementary, Kortman and Hord turned into a lively comic duo as they mixed chemicals and kept students' attention.

While Kortman quizzed students on what type of matter he held before them -- solid or liquid -- Hord stood behind him, clowning and flashing the answers to laughing students.

When they mixed two chemicals and left a student to observe the reaction, they roamed the room pretending to look for a third chemical to add to the mix.

Back on stage, the experiment was foaming and growing, and it eventually mushroomed out of its cup to spread onto the table.

Students howled "Oh my gosh! Look, it's growing!" and clapped to get the instructors' attention. Hord and Kortman, of course, pretended to be unaware.

The lesson: "Remember, some chemical reactions take a certain amount of time," Kortman said. "We were making polyurethane foam, which is used in skateboards and movie props and life preservers."

Student volunteers who help with the experiments wear goggles and receive safety instructions.

According to Nixon, the only student injury on record -- a minor one -- occurred when an Anne Arundel County student tried to push swelling polyurethane foam back into the cup.

The program employees have suffered a few more small injuries over the years of mixing chemicals and sparking small fires every day.

At Lisbon Elementary, by the time their program was over,

students were bouncing off the walls with excitement.

Returning to their classrooms to talk about what they had learned -- and calm down enough to be able to do more routine schoolwork -- some said the program had inspired them to learn more about science.

"I'd like to be a scientist when I grow up," said Daniel Puckett, 9. "I want to be an engineer, like my dad is."

Said Fredy Enriquez, 9: "I think I'll be any kind of scientist someday."

Pub Date: 9/15/97

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