I had the esteemed opportunity to teach a class of wonderful, bright minded kids through a program called My Brother’ Keeper! This program was started under the Obama administration and is geared towards African American boys from impoverished neighborhoods who have an interest in STEM subjects. I really like the concept of this program because I think it can really be a big game changer in diversifying the STEM field with more minority involvement. This year the classes for the program are being held at Nationwide Children’s hospital, right below the class where I participated for the Mechanisms class last year!
I decided that for my activity, considering that the age group was between 9-14 years, I wanted to give them something to do with their hands, while still having them take away a very relevant scientific concept! I knew the perfect project to whip out of my science fair arsenal for this: a hydraulic elevator. Each kid would get to make their own Hydraulic Elevators to take home with them and show all of their friends! I learned another thing these kids really like doing is taking things that they made home with them to show all their family what they are learning through this program, and as a kid that thought process was something that I really resonated with!
The concept behind my project was based on Pascal’s law regarding how a pressure change in a confined incompressible fluid is transmitted throughout the fluid. I needed to make this a bit more easily digestible for a third grader, so I had to make sure I defined all the jargon terms like “pressure” and “incompressible” before explaining the concept to them. To my surprise the kids took immense interest in what I was saying and were participating. First, I talked about how Blaise Pascal discovered an evolutionary principle simply by penetrating a barrel full of water with a metal pole through which he poured water. The barrel eventually became full and burst as water began to seep through holes. I poked fun at how if it weren’t for Pascal’s childlike curiosity we wouldn’t have discovered Pascal’s principle! The kids were amazed to learn how from such a simple act established the power of fluids to do work like no other state of matter can. Then I moved on to explaining the principle itself. But before doing that I knew that it was important for everyone to be on the same page.
“Does anyone here know what pressure is?” I ask.
One of the kids repeats pressure and attempts to put into words what he is thinking and says, “It’s when you push something.”
The entire room is filled with brainstorming kids when finally a kid blurts out “Force!”
I look at the kid and ask, “Is it just force or is something else involved in determining pressure?” A kids states questioningly, “size?” I nod in approval because I know they were on the right track! I press a sharp pencil against my hand, accidentally pricking myself, to explain how the area over which the force is applied affects pressure. I was so glad everyone was participating and learning from the discussion because that meant they were taking away something positive and worthwhile from this experience. Then, I discussed how this principle is used in Hydraulic brakes in cars which allowed them to discover how applicable this principle truly was even in today’s world. At the end of the powerpoint I had some complex-looking math problems to see their reaction to thinking that for the entire class we would be doing math problems! Unexpectedly, none of the students retaliated. Even one student in particular who was known to be very upfront about his feelings, innocently asking a lady giving a presentation last week, “when are we going to do something fun?” ,seemed on board with doing the math problems.
“We can do math problems this entire period, or we can make our own Hydraulic Elevators!”, I say. Everyone chose the latter. I could tell that even though there weren’t very many students in the class, the ones that were there were very enthusiastic and motivated to learn something new!
We finally started the activity. To demonstrate how pressure works I demonstrated Pascal’s principle where one syringe full of water was connected to a plastic tube and how the water didn’t fall out because of the pressure with which the syringe was pulling the water through the tube! Through simple activities like that I was able to demonstrate how pressure worked in this experiment! Essentially, the skeleton of the Hydraulic Elevator consisted of two syringes connected to each other through a plastic tube. When someone pressed down on one syringe, water flowed through the whole contraption and caused the other syringe’s piston to move up. I explained to them how they were building a simplified version of how an actual hydraulic elevator works. The kids also had the opportunity to select the characters they wanted for the hydraulic elevator! The day before I chose a bunch of minion characters from the Despicable Me movie to put in their hydraulic elevator. I was really keen on them individualizing their projects and letting them learn from their mistakes. I think it’s important for a teacher to not be too “laissez-faire” nor too controlling, because the only way for students to grow is to trust themselves and learn from their mistakes.
It was difficult managing all five kids at once, but luckily there were two Ohio State students who were affiliated with the program that helped me out! One of the kids silently sat at the back of the group, and after talking to him I discovered he was a very talented artist! Part of me understood what it felt like to feel like an outsider in the group–completely isolated– so I was eager to make him feel at home. They all created such unique elevators: the kid who shared his artwork with me, the loud-mouthed kid who told me in his own slang that he thought this project was cool, the quiet kid in the front who named his building “Hotel Transylvania” and another kid who would repeatedly say that he couldn’t do something, only to be proven wrong every time. After they made their elevators, I encouraged the kids to use their imagination to decorate and name their buildings. Like I mentioned above, one kid named his building “Hotel Transylvania” (from the movie), incorporating images of Dracula on the front and boldly printing “NOT FOR KIDS” on the door of the building. I jokingly remarked, “So you are not allowed inside your own building?” Another kid added a flagpole to his building, and another intricately cut some of the neatest windows I had ever seen onto his building. I loved seeing the kids harness their creativity, and reminded them that if they continue asking questions and seeking answers for them just like Blaise Pascal that they would get far in life. There was no shortage of enthusiasm, creativity, imagination or involvement in the class and I felt I had genuinely made an impact into the lives of some of these kids.
Just like this moment, I hope Ohio State will continue to create opportunities for me to harness my creativity and make something great!