Trust me, it was not a re-creation of the 1985 teen science fiction movie Weird Science happening, but science was involved on the Northpoint Christian School campus in Southaven Thursday in the form of the school’s Explore Zone.
There was fire being breathed… out, not in. Kids were learning how to make makeshift microscopes with paper, a separate room had a Glow Wall set up where kids were able to scribble using light on a special phosphorous wall.
Meanwhile, pond water was being purified and turned into drinking water.
In other words, just another typical day in science class.
But this time, the “classroom” was the school’s Trojan Gym, the teachers were the school’s honors physics and chemistry students, and the actual students in this classroom were Northpoint elementary youngsters and invited homeschooled students.
It was the Northpoint Explore Zone, an event held every other year by the science department and instructor Tammy Skinner.
“Explore Zone is an interactive museum that our high school students developed and put on for our elementary students,” Skinner explained. “The students had to take some physical science, chemistry, physics, or life science topic and create either demonstrations or hands-on activities for the elementary kids to do. We have exploding arts which is a chemical reaction that involves art. We have augmented reality and virtual reality. The kids get to dissect sharks and pigs' brains.”
Getting excited about science is the key to Explore Zone, which started about 13 years with Southern Baptist Education Center. Skinner said youngsters learn more and get more interested in science when they are able to “do” science.
“You learn science and you get excited about science by doing science,” Skinner explained. “That's what we believe here at Northpoint. You actually learn by doing and so that's what we're doing here. The exhibits here are not about the kids listening to a topic. It may be 30 seconds of listening, but it's five minutes of doing.”
There were two groups of grade school students who came to the day-long Explore Zone, one in the morning and another in the afternoon. An allotted time for each demonstration was set, and then the kids went on to the next one.
One demonstration popular with the kids was the Do-It-Yourself Glow Wall. They were taken into a darkened athletic locker room where a phosphorous wall was set up.
Jared Pish, a senior honors physics student, said the Glow Wall was found by way of a video he saw done on YouTube by Mark Rober, popular for presenting science topics as an engineer, inventor and YouTube personality. Rober was formerly an engineer with NASA, where he spent seven years working on the Curiosity rover at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
“With ultraviolet light, it will emit enough energy and the electrons within the wall will actually trap that energy and it'll give the light of the time,” Pish explained. “Most light doesn't work with it, it's actually UV (ultraviolet) light. We have this different type of key chains that will give off enough energy so that the electrons in the wall will rise to a higher energy state. It's kind of like a sugar rush when kids drink sodas that get hyper and then crash down. But, with that crash with the electrons, they give off the light that they receive.”
Another demonstration involved honors chemistry students Jackson Paleo and Jackson Flowers showing a form of “flame throwing,” using lycopodium powder.
“It usually is flammable because it's made of flammable materials, but the surface area of each spore is so small that when it's all clumped together, there isn't enough surface area to interact with oxygen and allow it to burn,” Paleo explained. “But, when you blow it into the air, it spreads the particles enough that oxygen can interact with each particle and allows it to burn. It's made of a very flammable compound so that allows it to burn even bigger.”
Paleo added lycopodium powder does not mix with water, so that if you put the powder into water and put a finger into it, the finger will remain dry, as the powder forms a barrier in between the finger and the water.
As a Christian school, Skinner was quick to point out the possible Christian and mission benefits of the items being presented.
“We not only want them to be excited about the world God's made, but we also want them to be excited about the fact that God has given us a brain to understand it,” said Skinner. “Then, after we understand it, we can take it and use it for something. You can go to the water purification exhibit and with a chemical reaction they can show you how it purifies pond water so you can drink. Then, you can take that into the mission field and use that to share the Gospel.”
But, for right now, Thursday’s Explore Zone was more about getting young kids more excited to “do” science.
“Getting them interested in science is the main part of this exhibit,” said Pish. “They'll remember this and maybe one day in the future they'll be, like, 'I want to do something similar.’”
Bob Bakken is Managing Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.