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BRING A CHILD TO WORK DAY 2008: Ready, Set, SCIENCE!
SOIL SCIENTISTS AT WORK!
The National Academies’ annual Bring a Child to Work Day, held April 24, 2008, featured a vast array of interactive science activities that are meant to introduce children to the work of the NAS and inspire them to explore careers in the fields of science, engineering and medicine. Approximately 85 students, ages 8-12, took part in the day’s events, which included a series of five science workshops. The theme for 2008 was “Ready, Set, Science!”
BISO Program Officers Katie Bowman and Ester Sztein, on the behalf of the Policy and Global Affairs Division, led a workshop on soil science. Like soil scientists, geologists, biologists and chemists who all study soils, students examined how water moves through soil and transports nutrients to plants.
Initially, students were challenged to identify five things that are found in soils. As components were being called out, Sztein encouraged students to illustrate on a dry-erase board the organic matter, such as worms and decomposing plants, and inorganic matter, such as rocks, minerals, and oxygen that make up the rich world of soils. Bowman next led participants though a practical hands-on experiment employing an inclined baking sheet, modeling clay, sugar cubes, plastic flowers, food coloring, and water.
Exploring how water moves through soil would require students to get their hands dirty. “Are these brownies?” one student asked as staff distributed blocks of modeling clay and a dozen sugar cubes at each work station. The lump of clay represented the underlying rocks that make up soil’s foundation; the sugar cubes served as the topsoil. Molding the clay as they saw fit and decorating it with the sugar cubes and a plastic flower that symbolized plants, students positioned the clay on their inclined baking trays. They carefully added a few drops of food coloring—the soil’s nutrients—to the sugar and then poured an ounce of water wherever they wanted on their trays. They observed what happened to the sugar and food coloring. In many cases, as the sugar dissolved it carried the coloring downhill away from their plants. Students discussed why this mattered to nutrient-hungry plant life.
When asked what lessons they hoped would resonate with students, Sztein said enthusiastically, “That Soil is important for life. It has components. It’s dynamic!” Bowman added that she hopes participants left with an appreciation for the role soil plays in their lives and that they would feel inspired to explore soil in their own communities. Students received a packet of quick-to-bloom Zinnia seeds to encourage them to plant their own gardens. Additionally, students were informed of “Soils: Worlds Beneath Your Feet,” an upcoming exhibit from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History that opens July 19, 2008. Being that 2008 marks the triennium of the International Year of Planet Earth, the workshop effectively highlighted the relevance of soil science in everyday society by bridging students’ lives to the global community.
ALL ABOUT IMPACT CRATERS
BISO was involved with a second session focusing on impact craters as well. BISO Director Kathie Bailey Mathae and DEPS Program Officer Brian Dewhurst worked together to organize the session.
When Dewhurst asked the participants to identify things in the night sky, they quickly named the stars and the moon. This provided the perfect segue to get the students thinking about craters. Dewhurst explained that scientists use craters to learn about the history of the earth.
The surface of a planet was created by sifting layers of green, yellow, and red powered paint over a layer of white flour in an aluminum pan. Working in small groups of four, students were instructed to stand up and drop a glass marble about an arm’s length from above their landscape. The marble-drop represented an asteroid’s collision on the planet’s surface.
Observing the craters they had made, students identified the order of colors top to bottom on and beneath the surface. The students observed that the layers of red, yellow, green, and white had reversed themselves on the surface following the asteroid’s impact. They then tried to determine the relationship between the before and after landscapes, how it had occurred, and how scientists would use such information in a real life scenario.
Bailey Mathae expressed her hope that this year’s participants left with a sense of excitement, and recognition of the challenges and opportunities that are available in science. “This was my third year participating in the Bring a Child to Work Day program, and every year that is my hope.”
Photos: L.E. Bevell
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