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Homemade lava lamps are fun, but they also deliver a lesson on liquid density.

After school science club makes learning fun

February 21, 2018 — 

A lava lamp is a mysterious thing.

Why do the globs ooze up and down like that? And are they really made with lava?

Those are just a few questions Danielle Lee gets asked at After School Science Club, a monthly program she created for elementary school students.

Most kids are naturally curious, especially about weird things like lava lamps. And if you tell them they’re going to learn to make the lava? Well, now you’ve got their undivided attention.

“The kids get to use centrifuge tubes and pipettes, things that you would find in the lab,” said the College of Pharmacy PhD student. After you combine soap, oil and water, that’s when the magic begins. “You drop in a few Alka-Seltzer tabs and things fizz up!”

Of course, watching roiling “lava” is already pretty cool. “Kids love seeing things explode,” she acknowledged. “But they’re also learning about the different densities of liquids. They’re getting a lesson about science that they can apply to other things.”

Lee caught the bug for education last spring when she volunteered for both the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences’ Biomedical Youth Program (BYP) and the Youth BIOLab Jeunesse at the St. Boniface Hospital Albrechtsen Research Centre.   

“Through these programs I realized how interested youth were in science,” she said. That’s when she decided to pilot the after-school program for Grades 1 – 5 at Robert H. Smith and River Elm schools, both in Winnipeg School Division.

“As a child, I was never really exposed to the sciences this way,” said Lee. Programs like BYP didn’t exist yet. “So, it’s nice to show kids that this is an option for them, that it can be a career.”

Since the program launch in June 2017, Lee has brought peers from other areas of the Rady Faculty and the U of M into the mix, including athletic therapy, immunology and human nutritional science. It’s great for the participants, who get exposed to a wide variety of disciplines, but it’s good for the university students, too.

“We’re always looking for the opportunity to teach,” she explained. For future health-care providers, knowledge translation – the ability to explain medical information to a patient – is a vital skill that you can only hone through practise. “If I can put things into language a young child can understand, it will definitely be clear enough for members of the public.”

Response from the schools has been very positive, Lee said. And feedback from the kids shows that they want even more from Lee’s fun-but-educational sessions. “We’re starting to move to inservice days, which gives us longer periods of time to really dig deep.” And to blow things up, she added. “When I ask them what they want to work on, it’s always about the explosions.”

Lee gets it. And there’s always going to be time for destruction, she says – think dropping raw eggs to demonstrate the effects of gravity. “But there’s always going to be a science lesson in it, too.”

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