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Students get charge out of science

Students get charge out of science
Students get charge out of science
Fifth-grade student Nick Wemes looks in a mirror and reacts to a hair-raising experience last Monday during a demonstration of electricity aboard the Mobile Discovery Center at South Central Elementary School. Wemes' hand is resting on a Van De Graff generator, which creates static electricity. His hair stood on end until he stepped onto the ground, which discharged the electrical field. (Photo by Alan Stewart)

Reading about science is one thing. Experiencing science is another.
The Mobile Discovery Center, a joint effort between the Army and the National Science Center in Augusta, Ga., used captivating demonstrations to educate students recently at several schools throughout Harrison and Crawford counties.
Forty-five-minute science presentations by Rich Cadwell, education services specialist with the NSC, and Sgt. 1st Class Eric V. Bailey had young and old on the edge of their seats inside what amounts to a classroom in an 18-wheeler.
Call it wows on wheels.
In one demonstration, frequency and sound waves were used to flex, and eventually break, glass. In a display of electricity at South Central Elementary, a Van De Graff generator sent the hair of volunteer Nick Wemes stretching out in every direction. It could be said the generator also had a hand in the laughter heard emitting from the mobile center.
‘I always like to see a smile on the kids’ faces, because I know that they are paying attention and are hopefully understanding what’s going on,’ said Bailey, a former drill sergeant at Fort Knox, Ky., who has a baritone voice. ‘The kids are what makes it special.’
Later, a Tesla coil was used to demonstrate how electricity is emitted.
Four students held standard fluorescent light tubes over the coil and the lights in the center were turned off. To everyone’s surprise, the tubes glowed like a light saber from ‘Star Wars.’
‘No jedi fighting allowed in here, though,’ Cadwell said.
As the tubes were moved away from the coil ‘ named for inventor and electrical engineer Nikola Tesla ‘ the light dimmed. Brought closer, they brightened due to the electric field surrounding the coil.
‘The students really enjoyed learning about electricity and magnets. We also got to laugh and participate quite a bit,’ said Denise Goller, a third-grade teacher at Corydon Elementary. ‘Many children came back to the classrooms and responded to the activities and experiments that they witnessed. I felt that (the students) were engaged in the presentation and learned from it.’
A large plasma ball was used in much the same way as the Tesla coil, allowing a chain of oh-so-conductive students to emit electricity as they held hands, with one end of the chain holding his or her hand on top of the ball and the other end holding a light tube.
At Patoka Elementary, Cadwell showed students a list of colors, with each written in the wrong color, such as the word, ‘red’ being written in green. Later he asked them to quickly identify the colors, not the words. None of the students could do it, instead yelling out the words.
He said preschool students would have no problem with the test because they don’t know how to read, so the intellectual side of their brain doesn’t yet have the information to override the artistic side.
‘When you can bring science to the children in a way they can understand, like explaining and experiencing something like static electricity, they get it,’ Bailey said. ‘They get it and they get excited.’
Two mobile centers visit schools throughout the country ‘ at no charge ‘ to reach students in grades three through nine. The trucks reach out to approximately 35,000 students a year while visiting anywhere from 80 to 100 schools. The truck that came to Harrison County is based out of Fort Knox.
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