September 9, 2015

Students Share Their Love of Science

Guilford physics students have shared their passion for science with students at nearby Jefferson Elementary School for several years. Started with support from the College’s Center for Principled Problem Solving, the outreach program stimulates curiosity among the Jefferson students through hands-on experiments.

Justin Ouellette, past president of the Guilford’s Society of Physics Students (SPS) chapter, and faculty mentor Steve Shapiro, a professor of physics, wrote about their experience for the Summer 2015 edition of The SPS Observer, the society’s national newsletter:

Elementary Education

With the help of an elementary school’s PTA president, our SPS chapter at Guilford College ran a three-week after-school science program. About five to eight chapter members came to each session, and sometimes we joined forces with the College chemistry club, too.

On one afternoon we gave elementary school students wires, batteries, bulbs and buzzers. Their first challenge was to use the materials to light a light bulb.

A third-grader told Steve that he didn’t know what to do. He had never done anything like this before. Steve told him to try different things and see if he could figure it out. He was resistant, but Steve encouraged him again to try.

A short time later his light bulb was shining, and he was soon on the way to lighting multiple bulbs at once (with different brightnesses!), sounding a buzzer, and becoming a confident experimenter. He asked for another battery to try an idea. “Scientists need to try things,” he said with an infectious grin.

During another week, students had to figure out how to enlarge and then reduce the image of an object on a screen using optical benches, lenses and other equipment we brought to the school. When they noticed that the image they produced was inverted, they got busy and figured out how to use two lenses to make the image upright.

As another challenge and to create some competitive fun, we drew a target on the whiteboard and challenged each team of students to direct light from a laser to the target via a path that included reflection off a specified (and increasing) number of plane mirrors. So that students would develop intuition about reflection, and to provide more challenge, we limited the time and the number of tests they could do with the laser turned on.

Visiting this elementary school was one of many outreach activities our chapter participated in during the 2014-15 academic year. Our physics department also hosted a monthly observatory open house. At our annual program geared to elementary school students, more than 200 students, teachers, parents, and grandparents attended a show in our planetarium and observed Jupiter and its moons, as well as galaxies, through our telescopes.

We ran a radio astronomy club in which middle school students learned the fundamentals about spectra and remotely controlled our radio telescope. We organized a 300-participant Guilford County Schools Science Fair for the second year in a row and judged two elementary school science fairs. It was a busy year at Guilford!