Sensory Science

By Frank Radosevich II
April 20, 2012

If something changes color, belches smoke or gushes bubbles, chances are kids will be interested in it, according to Michelle Edgcomb Friday ’96.

And roughly 100 fourth grade students proved her right during the University’s third annual National Lab Network Day, which took place April 20. The day brought teachers and students to the Hilltop from St. Mark Catholic School and Thomas Jefferson Primary School as well as a group of homeschooled children to learn about and experiment in the fields of math and science.

“They are always excited to be here,” said Edgcomb Friday, a lecturer in Bradley’s biology department.

The students were divided into teams and coupled with University students who led the youngsters through different stations where Bradley professors or students walked them through activities like extracting DNA from strawberries, racing model boats and blowing bubbles with dry ice.

Besides entertaining the visiting students with experiments, Bradley students and educators went one step further by explaining science behind the reactions. Dallas Henderson, a sophomore biology major who chaperoned a group of students, said he was delighted by his groups’ curiosity.

“All the kids are interested and were asking questions,” he said. “It was cool to see.”

Susie Stear, project specialist at Bradley’s Center for STEM Education, said math and science education in the United States has slumped among young students. The National Lab Network Day hopes to change that.

“We’re trying to increase their awareness of those fields and also to show them that anybody can do anything,” said Stear, a former grade school teacher. “If they put their mind to it and they have a goal, they can achieve that.”

The STEM center assembles resources from the areas of science, technology, engineering and math to improve future math and science education and encourage STEM learning before students enter college.

Stear said the choice of bring fourth grade students was a deliberate one. Their age ensures students are old enough to understand the activities and work on campus but young enough not to hold preconceived notions about science careers.

The grade school students were not the only ones learning during the day. Bradley students, particularly those studying education, had to chance to lead young students in a classroom setting and see other educators work with pupils.

“They get the experience of being with a small group of student and leading them around,” Stear said, “and they get a benefit from seeing the science activities happening in the classroom where they’re going to be when they are teachers.”

Though the students’ activities focused on hard science, the effort to bring them to campus involves different colleges. Education majors help chaperone the fourth graders, while students and professors in various science departments lead the activities.

“We have six different departments in three different colleges working on this,” Edgcomb Friday said. “This really is something that is cross campus.”