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Maryland Science Center aims to 'create a spark,' bringing learning to life in STEM-focused program

Maryland Science Center brings electricity-themed presentation to Mount Airy Elementary School

MOUNT AIRY — Samantha Blau counted down — "three, two, one" — as she held a device emitting electricity on an extendable pole to reach three red balloons floating at the front of the gym at Mount Airy Elementary School.

After she placed the device against the balloons, the trio, which were filled with hydrogen, exploded with a loud bang and a ball of fire as students let out cheers of surprise and excitement.

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And while for many of the kids, the hourlong assembly brought from the Maryland Science Center was a fun-filled break from class, the traveling program was 60 minutes of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, learning.

Two Maryland Science Center employees — Blau, an external programs manager with the science center, and K.C. Chaney, an external program educator — presented for the first time on Oct. 11 an electricty-centered program, "Who Invented Electricity?"

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The program consisted of students learning about many things, such as the history of electricity and the fact it wasn't invented but discovered; how electricity is transmitted and about conductors; and positive and negative charges.

For 10-year-old Matthew Murphy, the assembly brought excitement to science.

"I thought it was fun," the fifth-grader from Mount Airy said.

Matthew said he learned new information during the program, though some of it he already knew. And while science isn't his favorite subject, the science center assembly was enjoyable.

His favorite part was getting to see the balloons at the end explode, he said.

Blau ended the science program with a reminder about representation in the science and STEM fields. While most of the people known throughout history for their involvement in advancing electricity are white men, she said, a lot of women and people of color were involved along the way — like Lewis Howard Latimer who played a role in the creation of the Edison light bulb — and it's important to learn about them as well, she said.

"There's these people that we forget about," Blau said in an interview after the presentation. "[Kids] have to see themselves in these heroes of STEM so they can attain it."

This concept is something Principal Deborah Winson also said is an important part of these lessons.

Winson said she loved that one of the program members was a woman, and that she did the big experiment at the end with the hydrogen balloons. It's important for girls to see someone who's a woman and who's successful in the field, she added. It shows them they can be scientists, they can be leaders, they can be risk takers, she added.

This type of program is important, said Pete Yancone, the education director for the Maryland Science Center. The center runs a number of programs both in-house and on the road.

Getting these types of activities, that are hands-on and visual, into the classrooms is important, but oftentimes, he said, teachers don't have all of these resources the science center has.

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"Most schools don't want to own a Van de Graaff generator," he added.

And so, students may learn about things by watching videos or reading, which may not gain their attention quite as well as an in-person demonstration, Yancone said.

The assembly breaks up the regular schedule for kids, and lets them know it's something important and exciting. And because they think it's exciting, he said, they're more likely to pay attention and really retain the information that comes from the program.

"What we're looking to do is to put a group of people in front of the room who can not just share the phenomena but create positive energy, create a spark of inspiration to share the wonder of the experience," he added.



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