Elementary students get a bang out of traveling science show


February 15, 2002|By Betsy Diehl | Betsy Diehl,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

TO EXCITE a molecule, introduce heat. To excite a gymnasium full of schoolchildren, introduce a couple of comedic scientists from the Maryland Science Center's Traveling Science Program.

"It's our job to get you excited about science!" proclaimed Nicole Hord to third-, fourth- and fifth-graders at Hammond Elementary School on Monday morning. She and colleague Debbie Bell, both educators for the Maryland Science Center's educational outreach program, lived up to their word with two chemistry presentations at the school called "What's the Matter?"

Indeed, Hord and Bell got everyone excited, making presentations to the higher grades in the morning and to kindergarten through second grade in the afternoon. They captivated their audiences with zany antics and fascinating experiments for an hour, ending each session with a (literal) bang. Their style was part scientific, part slapstick humor, and the women delivered their lessons via foam, bubbles, scented gasses and flames.

"What's the Matter?" is one of 19 programs offered through the Maryland Science Center's educational outreach department. The center started its outreach program in the mid-1980s in an effort to bring science to schoolchildren.

"The science center is hard to bring a class to if you're from Garrett County," said Hord, supervisor of the center's outreach services.

She noted that counties closer to Baltimore, including Howard, are more likely to make trips to the center, though the terrorist attacks in the fall have left schools reluctant to travel.

Bringing the science center to the schools is a safe alternative, and more convenient for teachers, who need give up only one hour of the day for the program rather than spending time traveling.

The eight members of the outreach staff have backgrounds in fields such as education, acting, communication and science. "You just need the enthusiasm for the material, and not to mind putting yourself on stage and have people point and laugh at you," said Hord, a marine biology major who started with the outreach program in 1993 after graduating from college.

She expected it to be a temporary career but was soon hooked. "I love giving the excitement of science to kids," she said. "It's so interesting and so exciting. I love seeing kids get it."

Bell, who has been on staff at the center since August, is a former schoolteacher. "This lets me be with kids and adds to my natural performing side," the Scaggsville resident said.

Horn and Bell were not the only ones in the limelight Monday morning. They enlisted the help of several volunteers, including fourth-grader Kara Barry and fifth-graders Cody Stoddard and Logan Grover, who played the parts of Miss Solid, Mr. Liquid and Mr. Gas in a demonstration about producing carbon dioxide gas using a solid and a liquid.

Other student volunteers during the morning session were third-graders Zack Darnell and Kaitlyn Colvin, fifth-grader Caitlin Long and fourth-grader Josh Knox.

Despite the slime, foam, flames and thunderous explosions from igniting hydrogen-filled balloons at the finale, Hord emphasizes safety and notes that they have never had a mishap during a school program.

"You're dealing with live science, which is why we practice hundreds of times," she said. "We know every single reaction possible. We do [the experiments] wrong at the science center to see all the possibilities."

For Hord, this is a dream job. "Where else are you going to get a job where you can play and blow things up?" she asked. "I get paid to play with children."

Singing standouts

Leah Feldman and Emily Rozansky, eighth-graders at Lime Kiln Middle School, were accepted into the All State Chorus. The girls auditioned - along with 1,500 other students - for 100 slots in the choral group, said Nellie Hill, the school's general music teacher. "They really worked hard," Hill said of the girls. "This is really exciting."

Bingo benefit

If you like baskets and enjoy a good game of bingo, plan to attend Basket Bingo on Feb. 23 at the Savage Volunteer Fire Company Hall, 8925 Lincoln St. The event, which will benefit the fire company's ladies auxiliary, includes 20 games of bingo, raffles, door prizes and two extra jackpot games (for an extra fee).

The games begin at 7 p.m., but doors open at 5 p.m. for those who plan to buy dinner from the kitchen. Tickets are $15 if reserved in advance; $17 at the door until sold out.

Tickets and information: 301-725-6409 or 301-498-6813.

Parting words

Fifth-grade teacher Melanie Jackson was enlisted to "excite" the molecules of a liquid in a large bottle by shaking it during Monday morning's science program. After the liquid was drained, a flame wisped in the bottleneck and, to the delight of the audience, a contained explosion ensued.

Seeing how the experiment held pupils' attention, Jackson says that she is rethinking her current teaching strategy.

"I'm going to try to incorporate chemistry into my language arts lessons!" she said with a chuckle.

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