Where Science Enthusiasm Bubbles Over

Buy Photo Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound A group of 4th-grade students watched in awe as one of many Mentos-and-Coke eruptions at the popular volcano display created by Branford High School (BHS) AP chemistry student Lianne Yun and her team. The eruption was part of the BHS Science Days at the town's three elementary schools. The foam quickly shot up to a crowd-pleasing 15 to 20 feet in the air. BHS students shared fun experiments with 4th graders at Tisko School (shown here), Murphy School, and Sliney School during one-hour visits on May 20 and June 3 and 5.

Like an exuberant stream of Mentos-powered foamy cola shooting skyward, 4th graders were bubbling over with enthusiasm during Science Days with Branford High School (BHS).

On May 20 and June 3 and 5, BHS students from several Advanced Placement (AP) science classes traveled to Branford's three elementary schools to share hands-on science experiments with 4th-graders. The annual program was developed by BHS science/AP physics teacher Helen Elperina, who has since brought in other teachers from her department and their classes to participate. The hour-long visits are designed to get kids excited about learning.

"It really is enormously beneficial," said Elperina. "The younger kids see role models who are our best science students, and our kids are so excited themselves-they love to come here and see their former teachers. But also for our students, it's time to give back to their community; it's time to teach. They absolutely enjoy it."

In fact, this year's set of high schoolers was also the first set of 4th-graders visited by Elperina's students, nine years ago, noted AP environmental sciences teacher Matthew Park.

"I think the high school kids love coming back, especially now because they can actually remember the older kids coming in and doing this. So they're really fired up to come in and actually do it for them and they remember the benefit they had," said Park.

Each experiment is researched, developed, and created by teams of high school students working together.

"I try to challenge my kids," said Park of the student-to-student teaching aspect. "With things like recycling it's one thing to teach about it; it's another thing to actually interact and get into it. Fourth graders don't care about mining, but if they can go and dig and get something out of it, it's more beneficial to them."

On June 3, BHS students from AP chemistry, physics, and environmental science visited Tisko Elementary School with several fun experiments. One taught about the Texas-sized "Great Pacific Garbage Patch" and toxins from plastic waste in our oceans. Absorbed when consumed by small organisms, the toxins become part of the food chain, right up to seafood consumed by humans. To demonstrate, 4th graders got their hands wet moving plastic pellets through the water into small plastic Easter egg "fish," which were then "eaten" by larger ones.

Meanwhile, over on the grass-area "glacier," some 4th-grade "polar bears" were literally bounced from the melting ice, as carbon-based global warming (in the form of colorful dodge balls tossed by the big kids) found easier and easier targets on the shrinking glacier.

"They have to answer questions, like would they rather get an Xbox One or a bike for Christmas, and if they pick like Xbox One, that uses more carbon than a bike, so the glacier will shrink, which makes it harder for the polar bears to survive," explained student Mike Burgess.

Experiments in chemistry included making "Rainbow Milk" (a psychedelic reaction between milk, dish soap, and food coloring); a classic Coke-and-Mentos erupting "volcano"; and learning how mixing some simple kitchen ingredients can create enough carbon dioxide gas to blow up a balloon. Kids found out how a lemon stuck with conductors creates a blip of electricity and how energy travels from hot to cold receptors, and powered mini wind turbines with their lungs in a race to learn about "The Five Super Powers" of renewable energy (hydro, geothermal, wind, biomass, and solar). The winner got to operate a water sluice, which powered a water wheel co-designed by students Maxine Hernandez, Alex King, and Lizzie Barthelemy.

Fourth grader Aurelia Keberle won a turbine race, got the water wheel rolling, and pronounced the experiment "the most fun thing," of the day, adding she liked learning from the big kids.

Among still other experiments was a VEX remote-control robot to toy with, at the "Robotics with Emily and Quinn" exhibit.

"We want to show them robots are cool," said Emily Yale, who put together the two-foot high, erector-set-style VEX Robot with experiment partner Quinn Bohan. Both are also both members of shoreline-based FIRST Robotics Team Apple Pi.

Showing younger kids that science is indeed cool is what makes Science Days such a great idea, added AP chemistry teacher Jocelyn Vennero.

"I think the biggest benefit is that it excites the kids for science," said Vennero. "It gets them starting to think about all the different possibilities for how science can be applied for them, and in the real world."

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