They were not at lunch, recess or even gym class, but were enjoying science. With the help of some graduate students in mechanical, aerospace and biomedical engineering at the University of Tennessee, they were learning how to do experiments with plasma and polymers.
At one of the cabin-like buildings on the camps, the students watched racquetballs shatter like glass after being exposed to liquid nitrogen and helped liquid cornstarch and water take on solid properties.
They, in turn, went through their own metamorphosis from passive to active learners.
“It’s a lot better than sitting around listening to a teacher talk,” fifth-grader Andrew Catchpole said. “I feel like I can learn more by doing more interactive stuff.”
Classmate Blair Melhorn agreed after participating in the experiments, which also included learning how to make polymer bouncy balls and observing atoms in gas getting positive or negative charges.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” she said.
The idea to invite the UT students came from fifth-grade math and science teacher Melissa Carey, who wanted to let the students have an opportunity to apply what they have learned in the classroom to the real world.
“Instead of talking about something abstract, now they get to see a physical state, how it works and what it really is,” she said.
Andrew Kaminsky, a mechanical engineering student at UT and president of an association of graduate students there, said the idea for the program came from Kaminsky’s wife, also a teacher. She knew UT’s engineering departments had the resources, he said, and thought maybe he and his colleagues could think of some fun experiments for younger students.
The graduate students were able to get some grants for the various presentations and experiments they do around town from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, with matching funding from UT.
Kaminsky said he and his fellow students who participate have as much fun as the younger students.
“We’re exhausted, but we sure have a good time doing it,” he said. “We had stuff like this when we were students, so it’s our way to give back. And you can see on the kids’ faces that they love it.”
They also always try to bring a female student, he said, in part to encourage more young women to become interested in math, science and engineering.
Emily Morin was on hand helping Friday, and the girls at Tate’s School seemed to be having as much fun as the boys. Among them was Blair Melhorn.
“I’m very interested in science and with all the things you can do with it,” she said.
Enjoying watching them all was Principal Kaye Simmons, who said the experiments are perfectly suited to the mission of the math-, science- and arts-focused independent school.
“We want to expose our students early to all the possibilities there are from them,” she said. “This gives them a vision for what they can possibly do when they grow up.”
By John Shearer from Knoxville News Sentinel.