Remember when you spent hours tinkering with film canisters, cardboard, baking soda and vinegar to make the perfect rocket? Or surreptitiously played with dry ice to create bubbling cauldrons or mini-bombs?
Why should kids have all the fun! Why can’t adults participate in this kind of inquiry? Exploring real-world phenomena in a hands-on way isn’t important just for the grade school set, the skills fostered by this kind of inquiry are critical for success in our innovation-driven society and are fundamental to true scientific literacy. Most importantly, playing with science reminds us that it is awesome!
A couple observations: (1) Adults are intrigued by science. The immense popularity of events like Exploratorium After Dark and the Academy of Science’s NightLife series supports this observation; (2) Fostering scientific literacy gets a lot of press, but the vast majority of hands-on programs are aimed at children. The main route for adults to cultivate scientific literacy is passive: reading books and magazines or attending lectures. Studies show this educational route is far less effective than hands-on exploration; (3) Few adults have had any real exposure to authentic inquiry: observing a phenomenon, asking questions, testing ideas and formulating theories.
My goal is to bring inquiry-based, science-themed activities to adults, melding fun with learning. Imagine spending an evening with friends, noshing on good food, consuming adult-beverages, and exploring cryogenics with dry ice and liquid nitrogen or designing an experiment to determine if glass shape really affects the taste of wine. Sound fun? As a middle school science teacher, I spend nearly every day trying to foster early adolescents’ natural sense of wonder, while pushing them to think critically and scientifically about every day phenomena. Too often adolescents lose their interest in science because cookie-cutter labs, massive textbooks, and myriad cultural messages tell them that science is “too hard” or not applicable enough. I strive to fight against this trend in my classroom, but there’s a whole generation of young adults out there who, I believe, are eager to re-capture their childhood fascination with the world. Leveraging my experience as an educator and science nerd, I hope to provide adults with a scientific playground that will re-ignite their innate curiosity and, in a small way, contribute to cultivating a more informed, scientifically literate citizenry.
Funded by San Francisco, CA (June 2011)