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Science center brings wonders to schoolchildren


Science can amaze, intrigue -- and travel to Sykesville, where technicians brought the Maryland Science Center's Traveling Space Program to Piney Ridge Elementary yesterday.

Felicia Shakman and Raine Bode, two of the center's six travel science specialists, make complex concepts understandable and tailor experiments to the age of their audience.

The show goes on the road four times a week to schools throughout Maryland and in neighboring states.

"We try to make things as clear as possible so the children can understand," Ms. Shakman said. "We show them science can be fun and we spark their interest."

"Cool" was the most often repeated reaction from an audience of kindergarten and first-grade students who got a close-up look at biology, chemistry and physics.

"Lighting things and fire really helps keep the audience interested," Ms. Bode said.

Safety came first, though.

"Never, ever experiment without an adult," Ms. Shakman told the students. "Things can go wrong really fast."

The technicians mixed a little drama and humor into their demonstrations and called on student volunteers to participate.

"We can play games to fool your senses," Ms. Shakman said.

Josh Reyes wouldn't be fooled. Blindfolded with an onion held under his nose, he proved he had a keen sense of smell and taste. Seconds later, he knew that the morsel placed in his mouth was an apple.

The technicians tried a blindfold again with Maria Andrion. Maria easily identified the toothbrush she pulled from a sack.

"Too easy," said Ms. Bode and held another sack for Maria.

"Eeewwww!" cried the audience, as Maria pulled out a handful of slippery rubber worms.

She couldn't identify them by touch, but pronounced them "really gross."

Asia Davis looked lost in goggles and adult-sized protective gloves, but she concentrated on her sound experiment.

She twirled a long plastic tube filled with gas. The gas made a thunderous pop, but Asia didn't flinch.

"I wasn't scared," Asia said later. "I saw this experiment before at my old school."

Jeffrey Duerr and Darressa Sykes filled a large plastic bag with air from a hair dryer. On the count of three, they let it go.

"Hot air does go up," Jeffrey said.

And, cold air goes down, the audience decided after several tests with dry ice.

"Time for chemistry!" said Ms. Bode, who mixed a few chemicals and waited for the children to react to color changes.

"We just made carbonic acid," said Ms. Shakman. "Raise your hand if you would drink carbonic acid."

She saw no hands, until she asked who drinks soft drinks.

"The next time you burp after drinking a Pepsi, just say you are experimenting with carbonic acid," she told the laughing children.

The hourlong program ended with cheers from the children.

"We saw some really neat tricks," said Amanda Magee.

"And we learned not to play with fire," said Brenna Horner.

Today, the technicians return to Piney Ridge for two more shows.

"We do the same show, with more detailed explanations, for the older children," Ms. Bode said. "We also ask them more questions and let them answer."

Sharon Johnston, PTA cultural programs coordinator, said the science show was like an in-school field trip.

"For about $1 a child, the children got to see the science center," Ms. Johnston said. "Many of these children have probably never been there."

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