I had the opportunity yesterday to talk with some very exciting environmentalists—a group of middle school students who were taking part in the 8th Annual Environmental Challenge at SUNY ESF. According to the organizers, something like 600 students from the Syracuse City School District participated and over 140 community members volunteered to help judge the exhibits. I was proud to serve among the latter, reviewing the various exhibits containing myriad hypotheses and scientific experiments, some fun (like the student who wanted to know if house plants could survive in a world without people), many focused on solutions.
It was extraordinary to me, to see so many students cranked about science. I thought in a world of facebook and Miley Cyrus, that somehow science would be déclassé. I was wrong. Dead wrong. Maybe it’s just middle school hormones, but they were on fire for their projects. Some of the exhibits had a clear environmental focus; others less so. One young man was trying to see if he could render a magnetic field apparent with simple home objects, another tried and managed to magnetize a nail. Two young women created an experiment to see if they could determine which antacid had the greatest palliative power (note to self: the generic brand does not work better—you apparently get what you pay for), and another pair created a unique experiment to see which home objects could best help purify water (a t-shirt works pretty good, better than a coffee filter, on a certain range of indicators). Finally another pair of young men tested to see which sled (foam or plastic) met the need for speed. Turns out…foam’s the ticket.
With so much buzz, and so many engaged students, it was to me a stellar example of what we are hoping education, and co-curricular offerings can provide as we seek to develop scientists and problem solvers equipped to meet and address 21st century challenges. The most remarkable thing to me was the capacity for young people to understand and implement experiments utilizing the scientific method. Kudos to all the Science Teachers mentoring these students! The joy and commitment the students evinced was moving, and as I considered the future for my young daughter, I thought positively of working on similar science projects with her as she grows to explore her world.