Baylor, TSTC Partnership Introduces Kids to Fun Side of Science

May 17, 2000

Neon lights, static electricity and sound waves welcomed 100 Tennyson Middle School seventh-graders to Physics Circus 2000, a day of educational entertainment coordinated by the Center for Astrophysics, Space Physics and Engineering Research (CASPER), a partnership between Baylor University and Texas State Technical College.

Tennyson students spent the day on the TSTC campus observing and participating in various events designed to present physics in an exciting way. They also competed for a pizza party by designing an apparatus that would protect an egg in an 18-foot drop.

The "Wow" of Physics

Dr. Laura Barge, senior research scientist with CASPER and director of the Physics Circus, said the event was created to help young people experience the fun side of science.

"We are hoping to inspire the students and get them excited about science," Barge said. "A lot of times, science can be intimidating. We just want to 'wow' them with some really neat demonstrations."

The circus is just one of many GEAR UP Waco Grant initiatives aimed at attracting students to science. GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) is designed to help children prepare for college and involves several local educational institutions, including Baylor, TSTC, McLennan Community College and the Waco Independent School District.

Students were introduced to Physics Circus 2000 in a darkened cafeteria, illuminated by a stage-full of bright neon lights and scientific gadgets. They then were divided into several groups and led through the various facets of the circus, such as a multimedia laser light show, the egg drop contest and sun spot observation.

Those starting with the multimedia event learned about sound and light waves, as well as electricity and vacuums, with vivid demonstrations. They also viewed a video featuring Tennyson students answering such questions as "What is light?" and "Can you hear sound in space?" A scientist and a detective then acted out a skit to show the answers. Students wore special glasses to discover that white light really is a combination of several different colors. They also saw that in an airless vacuum, even a noisy alarm clock cannot be heard.

Egg-cited about science

Tennyson students Domeeka Holmes and Chasity Cooper worked together during the egg drop event.

Cooper focused her work on the decorating part of the project. "We're not really sure, but we're going to make a house for it to protect it."

Holmes said she liked the exercise. "I think it's fun," she said.

Holmes also said she hoped to win the event. "But we're just playing with the looks right now," she said with a giggle. "We want our egg to be pretty."

Dr. Truell W. Hyde, director of CASPER and associate professor of physics at Baylor, said he and other coordinators will know after the event how well students enjoyed the circus.

"No one really knows what to expect," Hyde said with a smile. "It's pretty hard to explain what this is, but we're really going to try and push science on them. We'll find out what works and adjust for the next time."

Hyde said there will be four physics circuses next year to reach every eighth-grader in WISD. He added that during the summer, one event will be done in conjunction with a star party at night, featuring two shows - one in English and the other in Spanish.

Getting students to like science and giving them hands-on opportunities are important to the vision of the GEAR UP Waco Grant.

GEARing up for college

Matthew Williams, GEAR UP project director, said the Physics Circus helps fulfill a key criteria of the grant.

"One of the major goals of GEAR UP is to get students prepared early for college, and in doing that, we have to stress the maths and the sciences," Williams said. "This is one of the big, splashy events that we have. This shows that science can be fun and attractive."

GEAR UP Waco Grant participants include Baylor, TSTC, MCC, WISD, Communities in Schools/McLennan County Youth Collaboration Inc., the City of Waco and the Waco Foundation. The $6 million program, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, focuses on enabling more young Central Texans to stay in school, study hard and take the courses that can open the doors to college. GEAR UP Grant programs strive to assist communities in creating plans that strengthen their schools and provide enrichment opportunities to help all students gain a pathway to a college education.

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