How do you know that air is there?

IMG_3603That was the first question my friend Lisa Burke and I asked a group of second and third graders in an after-school Hands On Science program last fall at my son’s school. Titled “Action Attraction,” the eight-week series was about natural energy, which the kiddos took to, well, naturally. Perhaps that’s because a lot of the experiments, designed to demonstrate concepts like gravity, magnetism, static electricity, and water pressure, seemed deceptively silly —  blowing air through a paper cone to levitate a Styrofoam ball, poking holes in a paper cup of water to simulate a turbine, pulling iron filings through a maze with a magnet. They were delighted that we not only tolerated their getting down on the ground and making a mess, but required it. Then somehow during that magic hour, they would, one by one, Get It. I’m not sure many of these budding scientists would be able to spout the technical definition of the Bernoulli Effect or a “meniscus,” but that’s not the point. At this age, the goal is to leave them thinking that science can be fun.

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