What is going on here?

By Marshall Brain

My kids go to A.B. Combs elementary school in Raleigh, NC. One day last Spring, I got a phone call from Muriel Summers, the principal of the school, asking me if I would like to have lunch with her and Michael Armstrong.

We had a very nice lunch, and the question we ended up talking about at great length was this: How can we improve science education at A.B. Combs, and by extension at other elementary schools? It is an interesting problem because:

  • In many states, like North Carolina, science is not even an official part of the curriculum until grade 3 or 4.
  • Many teachers in elementary schools do not have strong science backgrounds.
  • It can be difficult to do meaningful experiments in an elementary school classroom. Things like cost, lack of equipment, safety, clean-up, difficulty in monitoring 20 to 30 kids during the activity, etc. all contribute to the problem.
On the other hand, there are things working in favor of science at the elementary level. First, kids love science because kids are naturally curious. And second, at least at A.B. Combs, there is a science fair every year that has huge participation by both students and parents. So we felt that we might be able to tap into some of that latent science energy.

Also working in our favor at A.B. Combs is the existence of a school video network that broadcasts a "Morning News" program to all classrooms every morning. The Morning News lasts 15 minutes and generally contains announcements, awards, etc. of interest to students.

So, at lunch that day, the three of us discussed a project we would try. The question: Is it possible to raise "science consciousness" and "interest in science" among the students at an elementary school? Even better, could we get around some of the problems of doing science experiments in an elementary school classroom by encouraging students (and, obviously, parents) to do their own experiments at home? Over the course of several weeks, I hashed out a proposal. As a starting point, I would produce some simple science videos that we would play once a week on the Morning News. Along with each video I would have a take-home worksheet, so if students want to perform experiments at home, they can do that. And I would put the videos on the Internet so that parents can watch the same videos that their kids are watching at school.

So I started creating videos.I will be the first to admit these videos are not perfect, but they do convey a message, and the kids at A.B. Combs seem to enjoy them. What you see when you watch one of these videos is the best that I can currently produce given that I have the normal time constraints that any working father of four has. All of the filming is done after the kids go to bed or on weekends (with the kids sitting silently off-camera in many cases). I film in our kitchen because it has a nice big countertop and a sink. Also, most kids will be doing the experiments in their kitchens.

At the end of the day, here is what I am trying to accomplish. My goal is to help kids get excited about science and engineering. I want to help kids understand how cool/interesting/fun science and engineering can be. I am trying to create experiments that are interesting to kids, and doable by kids, and meaningful to kids, and that don't require any "special" equipment so that kids (and their parents) can do them at home. I hope that I can: a) help kids get interested in science, b) help kids see that learning and science can be fun and interesting, and c) help kids to learn new things about the world around them. If we can accomplish that (I by shooting the videos and you by showing them to kids), then it's a good thing.

If you are a parent or a teacher, and if you are thinking, "Are there any fun science experiments out there that I can do with my kids?" or "What should we do for the science fair this year?" or "How can I help my kids to see how cool/fun/interesting science is?", then I hope you find these videos helpful. If you have feedback or ideas, I would love to hear from you.

Thank you for visiting today. Have fun performing your own science experiments!


© Copyright 2011-2017 by Marshall Brain. All rights reserved.