OGDEN — If the children can’t come to the science, then the science will just have to come to the children.
Weber State University’s popular “Science in the Parks” program, which has been bringing free hands-on summer science programs to local parks for more than a decade, was forced to take a hiatus this year due to the social distancing mandated by the COVID-19 pandemic. But those involved with the program were determined that when it comes to fun and learning, they weren’t about to let some virus stop them.
“We didn’t want to lose our momentum,” said Amanda Gentry, director of Science in the Parks, and the coordinator for community engagement in the College of Science at WSU. “Science in the Parks has been going on for over 10 years, so we’re trying to get kids to continue to practice science in their houses.”
This summer, Gentry and her team are accomplishing that through free “grab-and-go science kits” that they’re making available for children to pick up at Ogden schools. Each kit includes a booklet that walks students through the scientific experiments included. What’s more, the Science in the Parks program is also teaming with the WSU Ott Planetarium’s “Science Saturdays” program to provide online instruction on the kit’s experiments.
The first 2020 Science Saturday event, held June 27, was a virtual star party. The grab-and-go kits for that date contained experiments related to the sun — our star — and star projectors.
“It went well,” Gentry said of the inaugural virtual Science in the Parks/Science Saturday event. “Included in that kit was everything related to a virtual star party — from a red Solo cup to make a star projector to five beads that turn colors when exposed to UV light.
This week’s Science Saturday event is going to be rocket-themed, according to Gentry, with a grab-and-go kit that involves an Alka-Seltzer rocket, a balloon-powered rocket, and a rubberband rocket, among other things.
This week’s grab-and-go science kits will be available from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday, July 16, at the following schools: Ogden High, Ben Lomond High, and Bonneville High; as well as at Heritage, Lincoln, Madison, New Bridge and Odyssey elementary schools.
“Only the schools participating in free lunch distribution will have the kits,” Gentry explained.
Then, on Saturday, July 18, Science Saturday will present online videos and virtual classes to help students with their experiments.
Gentry said they’re even trying to make their online videos more fun setting them to catchy music and involving more slimes.
“Yeah, slimes. Like the ones on the Nickelodeon shows?” she said. “Kids love slimes.”
Gentry said they haven’t nailed down the exact time for the Science Saturday presentation, but she said they’ll post videos on how to complete the experiments throughout the day. They’re also planning a rocket launch, using a Go-Pro to give students a front-row seat to the action.
Gentry said they produced about 2,000 kits for that first grab-and-go experience in June. She said they plan on 5,000 kits for this week’s event, and if they run out of them they’ll produce even more for a third event coming in August.
For this grab-and-go, the university ordered a custom bag imprinted with a logo. It’s due to arrive two days before the distribution.
“They’re arriving on the 14th, then we’ll have a major stuffing party to get all the kits ready,” Gentry said.
She said feedback from the community on these grab-and-go science kits would be “super-appreciated.” Gentry said they never heard back from parents or children on last month’s kits, so they don’t know how well they were received.
The kits include an instruction booklet because a lot of Ogden children are from lower-income families, and “we can’t rely on them having an internet connection,” according to Gentry. She said they’re also working on a Spanish translation for the next grab-and-go science kit booklet.
Although these science programs are all about the learning, Gentry said she hopes the fun shines through for students — especially in these socially-distanced days.
“I think mostly, for this summer, it’s just important to remember that science is fun, and you should always ask questions and always explore,” she said. “And it should be fun. That’s why it’s fun to go to school — to learn the science behind the fun things you do.”
Gentry also hopes these grab-and-go science kits will inspire the younger generation.
“Ideally, they’ll take these experiments and morph them into their own crazy experiments,” she said.