What do owl pellets, skeletons, lasers and balloons have in common? They were all part of this year’s Summer Science on Wheels.
Kids need fun and educational activities to keep them engaged and connected, even when school’s out for summer. Determined to inspire budding scientists, the Bradbury Science Museum’s educators Mel Strong, Chelsea Redman and Emily Schmidt, intern Tina Nisoli and an educator sponsored by the Bradbury Science Museum Association traveled to all nine Española public elementary schools with the Summer Science on Wheels program, bringing creative hands-on activities for kindergarten through sixth-grade students.
Summer Science on Wheels is part of the schools’ 21st Century Community Learning Centers program. This is an out-of-school-time program offered to students free of charge through grant funds. It offers academic, leadership and enrichment opportunities for students and families, particularly in under-resourced educational districts.
The educators provided three visits to each school group over three weeks, visiting on the same day each week and providing a welcoming consistency for the students. “Thanks to Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Bradbury Science Museum Association, we were able to serve three additional schools this year compared to last summer,” said Strong. This summer, Science on Wheels was also able to work with students in the McCurdy Ministries summer program.
Nisoli — a student herself, just beginning her studies at the University of New Mexico this fall — appreciated the opportunity to work with kids and try something new. “I especially enjoyed Science on Wheels and being able to interact with children and students, and hopefully spark their interest in STEM,” Nisoli said of her experience as the Bradbury’s intern. During her internship, Nisoli learned how to effectively present scientific concepts to younger children and how to make STEM activities fun and engaging.
Skeletons, rainbows and electricity
The first week’s activities focused on anatomy, physiology and the skeletal system. Students dissected owl pellets, examined the contents — bones of birds, mice and voles, and maybe some exoskeletons — with a magnifying glass, and then used a bone ID sheet to try to identify the bones. The kids built a magnetic skeleton and matched skeletons with the correct animal shapes. Each student took home a page of printed bones to cut out and build their own paper skeletons.
During the second week, activities centered on light and optics. Students experimented with rainbows using diffraction gratings and drew pictures with red and blue markers and observed how they looked different through red-blue specs (like 3D movie glasses). They also built their own kaleidoscopes using cardboard tubes, reflective film and colorful beads.
Electricity was the hot topic during the third week. Activities started with static electricity — think balloons sticking to surfaces and tinsel floating in the air. Students built their own electroscopes and got to play with the circuit sandbox — a collection of hand-crank generators, lights and motors that students can connect in different way to find out what works. This activity has been the highlight for many students in the last two years.
“We always try to create activities that work for a wide range of ages, are fun and exciting, and have something the students get to take home,” said Redman. “Getting to see the students excited about STEM is the best reward!”
Interested for next summer? Learn how to bring Summer Science on Wheels to a summer class near you.