Laboratory educators excite kid scientists at Española schools

Bradbury Museum’s Summer Science on Wheels program hits the road

By Micaela Hester | July 8, 2021

Science on Wheels
Students worked on building a structure to protect a stuffed animal from a simulated earthquake.

Can you protect a teddy bear from an earthquake? Or use your body’s energy to power Christmas lights? More than 400 students in Española can, thanks to the Bradbury Science Museum’s Summer Science on Wheels program.

School may be on break, but children in the region still need fun and educational activities to keep them engaged and connected – particularly as they emerge from a year of virtual classes and re-adjust to in-person learning. Determined to thrill budding scientists this summer, the Bradbury Science Museum’s educators Mel Strong, Chelsea Redman, and intern Denisse Lerma traveled to six Española district elementary schools, bringing creative hands-on activities for kindergarten through sixth-grade students.

A return to learning in person

“We want to expose them to science and have fun — really ignite their excitement,” Redman says.

Summer Science on Wheels is part of the schools’ 21st Century Community Learning Centers program - an out-of-school-time program offered to students free of charge through grant funds. It provides academic, leadership, and enrichment opportunities for students and families, particularly in under-resourced school districts.

After a pause last year during the pandemic, this is the second year the Bradbury team has conducted the program in person. “It’s great to see some of the same teachers and some of the same kids from the original year,” says Strong. Adds Redman, “It’s priceless to be there with the kids and do activities with them that aren’t on a screen. They’ve had a hard year.”

Lerma, who studies early childhood education at Northern New Mexico College, was instrumental in preparing the activities, and in connecting with some of the students. “Some were having trouble following instructions in English, so I explained the steps in Spanish to each student individually. They were very happy to have someone who speaks their language and to be able to understand the instructions of the engineering project. It was very rewarding to see their happy faces after achieving their goals.”

Do stuff and see what happens

The educators visited each school group once a week for three weeks. The first week’s activity focused on engineering. Students had to build a stable structure out of materials like straws and pipe cleaners that would withstand an “earthquake,” gleefully replicated with a shake table. Their structures also had to protect an important resident – a teddy bear in a horse costume – without collapsing.

The next lesson centered on life sciences, with the final week focusing on electric circuits. The students used hand-cranked generators to light up segments of Christmas lights and get motors with propellers to spin. They also crafted a paper generator with copper tape, bendable LED lights, and three-volt battery, trying to see how many things they could get to work simultaneously.

 “It’s a build-your-own circuit free-for-all,” says Strong. “There aren’t really any rules, just do stuff and see what happens.”

Keepsakes and takeaways

For each week’s lesson, the educators made sure the students had finished projects to take home, proud souvenirs of achievement. The materials for the activities were provided through support from the Bradbury Science Museum Association and Enterprise Bank and Trust.

“We love being in the classroom and watching the kids get excited, have fun, and understand that science is so hands-on in real life,” says Redman.

>  Learn how to bring Summer Science Wheels to a summer class near you