National Science Center rolls into lives of Layton elementary school students

Nov 16 2009 - 11:50pm

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(MATTHEW HATFIELD/Standard-Examiner) Josh Salmon, a student at E.G. King Elementary School in Layton, looks into a plasma ball while learning about science aboard the National Science Center.
(MATTHEW HATFIELD/Standard-Examiner) Josh Salmon, a student at E.G. King Elementary School in Layton, looks into a plasma ball while learning about science aboard the National Science Center.

SLIDESHOW: Students learn about science at the National Science Center's mobile unit

LAYTON -- A fluorescent bulb flashed with light Monday after just a touch from 10-year-old Candice Pappas' finger, proving that she is a human conductor for electricity.

Exhibit specialist Calvin Marschall told children at King Elementary School, who visited the National Science Center's mobile unit, that any human body can light bulbs.

"Everything you guys do out there is science," Marschall said. "Math, science and technology is in your future."

The mobile science exhibit, a teaching partnership between the U.S. Army and the National Science Center, is visiting a total of 20 schools in the Davis County and Salt Lake City areas in November. Sgt. 1st Class James Smith, an exhibit specialist, said the mission of the Mobile Discovery Center is to spark an interest in science in youth.

"This generation is unique in that they are exposed to so much more science and technology than those before," Smith said. "We want our next generation of great scientists to come from within our own country."

That's why the Army and the Science Center have been taking the mobile science unit across the United States, giving hands-on lessons to elementary school-aged children on many aspects of science, including heat, sound frequency and electricity.

King Elementary fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders observed how blue alternating currents (AC) danced inside and bounced off the walls of a plasma ball. They oohed and aahed when the current became a straight blue line beneath a child volunteer's hand that was placed against the outside of the ball, demonstrating human conductivity.

Applause arose from the students when the light continued to shine as 10-year-old Tyler Patin waved the bulb around Candice without touching her. Marschall explained to the group that the AC volts were flowing around Candice and not through her, so her hair did not stand and touching did not produce a shock.

Other student volunteers grimaced during a shocking, hair-raising demonstration of static electricity, which builds up on the human body and provides the shocking experience, rather than flowing airborne around the conductor the way AC does.

Principal Buck Ekstrom said sixth-grade science teacher Bonnie Smith found out about the traveling science center about four years ago and signed up on the waiting list for a visit.

"It gets the students out of class to learn, like a field trip," Ekstrom said. "They learn and remember things better from a field trip because it is unique and novel."

Smith said the mobile center has expensive science equipment schools can't afford to provide.

"They can do things out there that I can't do in class," Smith said. "We can't have future scientists if kids don't develop a love for it."

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