Making chemistry fun
The Marion Springs Elementary School fifth grade class participated in its annual chemistry day with Dr. Gary Giachino at Baker University on Friday, but this year's trip connected the past with the present.
"I enjoy it a lot, otherwise I wouldn't do it, because I don't get paid for it," Giachino said. "It's very fun to watch them get excited and it's also important to give them a really positive experience in chemistry."
Tammy Lamb, fourth and fifth grade teacher at Marion Springs, is in her first year being back at the school since she attended nearly fifteen years ago. She was part of the first class to go through the chemistry day in 1989 under the teaching of Charlene Potter.
"It's really neat for the kids to get to come," Lamb said. "And to get to comeback myself. I wondered how much would be the same."
For the first hour of the visit, the students learned four aspects of what chemists do. These four things were work safely, research, make new molecules and analyze.
"My goal is not to teach them chemistry," Giachino said. "My goal is to teach them a little bit about science and to give them a really positive experience."
Throughout the entire hour, Giachino did experiments to make the learning fun and easier to learn. Some of the demonstrations included liquid nitrogen, balloons with different gases and making silly putty from glue.
Giachino also set a gummy bear on fire, turned sugar into a big flame and changed water into different colors with different compounds.
Lamb said she prepared her kids by doing similar experiments in her own class before Friday.
"We did do some of the same things," Lamb said. "We did something with gummy bears, but we didn't set them on fire, we melted them. We talked about water molecules."
After the demonstrations, it was the students turn to do the experiments. They worked in the chemistry lab for close to an hour trying to guess which metals they were using.
The experiments made the students use problem solving skills while allowing them to work with the materials hands on.
"They aren't doing the reactions, but they are getting the idea and they're learning to put patterns together to piece the puzzle together," Giachino said.
Many of the students have older siblings that have been through the chemistry day. Jayce Flory has three older brother that also took the trip, so he was sharing information about the demonstrations on the bus trip down.
"It's really fun," Flory said. "My brother Jared told me about the helium and hydrogen balloons, but I didn't expect the fire."
Giachino has been putting these on for almost 25 years, but 17 years have been while at Baker. He said he started them while he was teaching at Connecticut College and his daughter volunteered him to do one. He would travel to the schools with all of his supplies and do the demonstrations there.
"It caught on to where I was getting calls literally all across the state," Giachino said.
After the NY Times picked up on what he was doing, Giachino said he changed the format to make the schools come to the college. He said it got a little out of control in Connecticut, and he used to give the students campus tours.
"Kids get excited about being able to work on real chemistry laboratories," Giachino said. "I used to give them a tour of campus, because kids don't understand how college worked."
Lamb said the chemistry day is something ever class looks forward to, but knows they have to wait for their time.
"This is a really big deal for fifth graders every year," Lamb said. "And so my fourth graders are back at school. They're kind of bummed, because they didn't get to come. But they will get to come next year."
Giachino is doing the chemistry day for eight classes around the area, but half are classes from Baldwin Elementary School. He says his experiments haven't change much over the years, but he has no need to.
"With an embarrassingly small number of changes, because if it ain't broke, don't fix it," Giachino said.