What I Did Last Summer

 In Little Shop News

Many of my elementary school years began with a “what I did over summer vacation” essay.  This was not my favorite task, but this summer was different (in a good way)! Let’s start with a photo.

Students in masks standing in a circle holding hands. The activity is described in the text.

In Soccer Without Borders, the high school students mentor the middle school students. The high school mentors in this photo learned about circuits. When they connected the two paddles of the experiment called We Are All Connected, the music played. The mentors found that factors like sweat can affect the resistance of skin, which in turn affected the volume of the music. The mentors were intrigued to find that, regardless of resistance, the music started playing right away when they completed the circuit.

The is an image of an amplifier and MP3 player connected to paddles covered in aluminum tape. This is the We Are All Connected hands-on experiment.

This  exploration was driven by the students; our role was to provide a rich environment for and facilitate the learning. We selected all the materials we used to build our projects with sustainability in mind. This experiment includes a thrift-store MP3 player, a reused amplifier, and packaging for socks (we covered the cardboard shaping inserts with aluminum tape to make the “4-H” paddles).

How did we lay the foundation for this learning opportunity? Throughout over 30 years of science engagement around the world, we have learned that young people are natural scientists, curious about the world. As a land-grant University, it is crucial we provide access and include those who are underserved. The Little Shop of Physics – 4-H Extension partnership is founded on these ideas. We have decades of  expertise in building hands-on experiments and designing active science learning opportunities; 4-H Extension has a strong network of relationships  with remote communities  and Extension Agents who are passionate about education. We work hard to develop hands-on experiments that are easy to set up, intuitive and fun for community members of any age, and suited to free exploration rather than closely-supervised work — perfect for community events like county fairs. All of our guided  activities include a write-up covering the key scientific concepts at play and suggestions for facilitating learning — great for after-school programs or school enrichment programs.

To create 30 high-quality experiments and activities in a summer, we relied on an awesome team and partnership. Little Shop of Physics and 4-H Extension split the cost of materials. Ruben Flores at 4-H Extension arranged an opportunity for us to share our activities and experiments at an event with Soccer Without Borders and the Immigration and Refugee Center of Northern Colorado. A grant from 4-H Extension allowed us to hire an intern, Brenna Sydow, to create the experiments. During a 10-week period, Brenna planned and built 30 hands-on experiments and activities, and played a key role in facilitating the Soccer Without Borders event. She has set a Little Shop of Physics record for the most experiments created by one individual in the shortest time. We had a fantastic documentation team, Khandaker Sharmin Ashrafi and Rachel Jones, who created and edited the experiment signs and activity documents. It’s rare when I have the opportunity to work with so many professionals at one time. It made this summer well worth writing about! 

I want to end this story with more happy faces. These are photos from the event with Soccer Without Border and the Immigration and Refugee Center of Northern Colorado on June 18, 2021. Please note: all the adults were fully vaccinated. Patrick Lindsell, our amazing videographer, captured the day with this video.

This image shows a student holding a bottle and Brenna pouring isopropyl alcohol into it to make a density bottle. There are more students standing near the table waiting to make the density bottles.
Brenna talks with a student making a density bottle, which the student's sign language interpreter translates. There are students also at the table making their density bottles.

Brenna Sydow leading the Density Bottles activity.

Dr. D and students are standing around a black sheet of spandex stretched over a PVC pipe frame. The spandex is weighed down with a exercise ball. This creates a model of a gravity well.

Dr.D, a CSU physics professor, sharing how gravity bends space.

Two adults help students use coffee cups, rubber bands, paper clips, and a pencil to create a race car.

Patrick Pulis (right) and Patrick Lindsell (left) teach kids about energy transformations with coffee cup racers! 

High school aged student is clapping their hands near a middle school student who is wearing hearing protect earmuffs that have been modified with tubing and funnels. This configuration maps sounds on your left side to your right ear and vice versa.

A high school mentor, after their own exploration of the experiments, teaches a middle school student about hearing.