SENCER E-Newsletter, December 2005, Volume 5, Issue 4
Mercer Education and Science Majors Connect During National Chemistry Week
Laura Blinderman and Helen Tanzini, Mercer County Community College, New Jersey
A group of 8 faculty from Mercer County Community College attended the 2005 SENCER Institute. The inclusion of the Education department chair in our group of math, technology, and science faculty led to a number of brainstorming sessions on strengthening interdisciplinary connections. The beautiful weather and stimulating intellectual environment combined to open our minds to new ideas and collaborations. One idea was put into action during National Chemistry Week (October 16 – 22). Mercer County Community College education, chemistry, and biology majors teamed up to bring interactive chemistry experiments to elementary schools in Mercer County. Our students led a series of 45
minute events with faculty present for support. Mercer students engaged children in grades 2- 5 in combining polyacrylate and water to make artificial snow, the science behind long chain molecules affectionately called "bouncy balls" (cornstarch, glue and borax), examining the ability of crushed Tums antacid and vinegar to inflate a balloon, and making glitter slime from polyvinyl alcohol. Over 750 children in 5 schools were guided by 32 Mercer students and faculty.
Making artificial snow is not the type of unsolved public issue that SENCER activities usually address. For a 3rd grader, the "aha" moment of realizing that the snow in movies is not real snow, but something produced by chemistry opens a new way of thinking about science and the power of chemistry to address problems. The young children who participated in the event were stimulated to think about chemistry. We know this from the questions they asked which included:
Can the inflated balloon make the flask underneath float?
Could enough vinegar and Tums make a human float?
Can the snow be blown around by a fan to create a snowstorm?
Can you come back every day with a new experiment?
The Mercer students handed out age-appropriate chemistry newsletters and complementary moles and quickly realized something important about teaching; that to describe how the furry animal is a symbol of amount of a substance containing the same number of chemical units as there are atoms in 12 grams of carbon-12 (6.023 X 1023) is beyond the limitations of a 45 minute interactive presentation in an elementary school!
Aspects of SENCER addressed by Chemistry Week activities include; promoting civic engagement in our students, allowing students to apply course work to real world situations, developing interconnectedness between the classroom and the local community, and connecting education and science majors in a joint project.
The integration of education majors with advanced Science majors is interesting to us, because these are two groups of students who would not normally mix in their science courses. Most education majors take the SENCER course, Biological Science Concepts, while science majors take the 4 credit comprehensive biology and chemistry courses. Scientific literacy is a prominent component of our newly revised general education policy. It is particularly important for elementary education majors to have positive science experiences because they are the science teachers in K – 6. They play a direct role in stimulating the scientists of the future and also in insuring that children who pursue non-science disciplines have positive science experiences. National Chemistry Week activities also give science majors a sneak peak at what it's like to teach. Some students find that they excel at bringing science to the lay community. It is our hope that some of our science majors will consider teaching as a profession as a result of their experiences in the classroom.
The Mercer event was spearheaded by SENCER alum Helen Tanzini (chemistry), and participated in by alumni Laura Blinderman (biology), Marianne Reynolds (education), and Bruce Chorba (Biology). National Chemistry week is sponsored by the Trenton Section of the American Chemical Society (Chemistry.org and American Chemical Society - Trenton Section )
Marianne Reynolds, Chair of the Education Department summarized the event by saying, "In the classrooms, the enthusiastic reaction of the children and my students' experience with lesson planning and teaching techniques produced a successful result. Not only were the children turned on to chemistry, but my future teachers now look forward to teaching science in their elementary classrooms, too."