Pacific Science Center’s Science On Wheels program has been visiting schools around the state for more than 30 years, engaging students in scientific education and exploration.
Pictured are fifth graders Stella Haynes Kiehn and Samantha Dammrose, who are exploring convex and concave lenses during a lesson on “Refraction Action.” Photo by Deborah Stone.
Last year, it reached over 325,000 people. Recently, the PSC van made its way to Hollywood Hill Elementary for the day, bringing portable exhibits, demonstrations and instructional activities focusing on the area of physics. Students learned about light, sound, electricity and motion through an entertaining all-school assembly, hands-on experiments and lessons in the classroom. This was the third visit for the van to the school in the past few years.
In the fall, specialists came to do a "Blood and Guts" program, which emphasized the human body and biology. Hollywood Hill’s PTA generously funds the visits and arranges for the many volunteers needed to make the program successful.
"This program has real value," comments Hollywood Hill fifth grade teacher Victoria Gray. "It’s able to add a hands-on component to science that goes beyond what we can typically do. The experience of making science tactile is incredibly valuable for our students. The program is able to provide our teachers with examples of some engaging science lessons and experiences."
Gray explains that while the program helps the students with specific content knowledge, it also gives them an opportunity to practice their inquiry skills by seeing, touching, wondering and asking questions. Each classroom received an individual lesson during the course of the day.
With "Good Vibrations," for example, students explored the world of sound with tuning forks and musical instruments, investigating how people make and hear sounds.
In "Refraction Action," they observed the behavior of laser light as it interacted with different materials in order to understand reflection and refraction.
And in "Pulley Power," the kids designed and explored pulley systems to find out how and why such a simple machine makes works so much easier. Throughout the day, students also visited the library, where a mini science center was set up, with tabletop exhibit sets, experiments and a host of fun activities dealing with gravity wells, pendulums, steel drums, parabolic mirrors, electromagnets, electrical circuits and more.
Parent volunteer Sherri Feldman enthusiastically assisted kids at the various stations. "The kids get really excited about science when it’s done this way," she says. "They get to see it, touch it and explore it in a very tactile, sensory manner, and you can just see the light bulb going off in their heads." She adds, "It brings up questions and gets the kids to think about the why. Their ideas about what science is expand and they realize that science touches everything and is everywhere around them."
Fifth grade teacher Chris Koch echoes Feldman’s views and notes that kids aren’t the only ones that get excited.
She says, "Teachers really like the program, too, and we consider ourselves very fortunate that we have such a generous and supportive PTA that makes it all possible. The program connects with the curriculum and enriches by extending or adding content. And it allows all of the kids to have a shared experience, not just some of the classes, but the whole school gets to participate. It’s very beneficial for everyone." She adds, "What’s also nice about it is that it gives teachers ideas for how to extend student learning through additional activities that we can do with our classes."