Sharing Chemistry with Plays by Fusion Science Theater

Today’s post comes to us from the ACS Student Chapter at Union University in Jackson, TN.  They were awarded a Community Interaction Grant to share their love of chemistry with underrepresented groups in chemistry, and the project you’re about to read about is the result.  Is your chapter interested in doing the same?  Visit the Community Interactions Grant webpage and learn more, and while you’re there, check out our other grants as well!

The Union University student chapter of the American Chemical Society needed a way to encourage student involvement and simultaneously interact with the Jackson, Tennessee, community. Students had a desire to spread their love of science while also working with children, especially those who are underprivileged. A golden opportunity appeared in 2011 in the form of Fusion Science Theater, a program based in Madison, Wisconsin.

Fusion Science Theater creates plays for children based on fundamental science concepts so that they can experience science in an interactive, fun atmosphere. The length of the plays range from 30 minutes to an hour long, and during that time, actors encourage audience questions and participation in demonstrations, and they use ballots to gauge audience attention and comprehension of subjects covered.

Union University students Spencer Rhodes and Brooklin Byrd perform the play "Will It Light?" on March 7, 2013, for elementary students at Alexander Elementary School.

Union University students Spencer Rhodes and Brooklin Byrd perform the play “Will It Light?” on March 7, 2013, for elementary students at Alexander Elementary School.

“What Makes the Loudest Boom?” centers around two actors, one a show host and the other a guest on the show. Children learn about how things burn, how this process relates to gases, and how balloons filled with different gases explode differently when exposed to heat. “That’s the Way the Ball Bounces” is a science show that teaches children how various materials bounce differently based on their molecular bonding.

“What Makes the Loudest Boom?” centers around two actors, one a show host and the other a guest on the show. Children learn about how things burn, how this process relates to gases, and how balloons filled with different gases explode differently when exposed to heat. “That’s the Way the Ball Bounces” is a science show that teaches children how various materials bounce differently based on their molecular bonding.

Union University student Phillip Kurtzweil performs a demonstration for the “What Makes the Loudest Boom?” play on April 12, 2013 at Lane Elementary School.

Union University student Phillip Kurtzweil performs a demonstration for the “What Makes the Loudest Boom?” play on April 12, 2013 at Lane Elementary School.

Phillip Kurtzweil, a junior at Union University, said that having multiple demonstrations keeps the kids engaged. “The kids say, Oh, wow! That’s cool! Flames! But in between the demos, you explain all the topics to them,” said Kurtzweil.

In September 2012, Dr. Randy Johnston, chair of the chemistry department, and two Union students were invited to a three-day training workshop at the Madison Area Technical College to learn a new play called “Will It Light?”, which involved explanations of electricity and how it is conducted through liquids. Through that experience, the Union students learned new techniques to communicate with younger students, enabling student to more concretely understand science concepts. These new skills were tested at the Madison Children’s Museum on the last day of the trip.

For the 2012–2013 academic year, the play “Will It Light?” was added to the lineup, replacing “That’s the Way the Ball Bounces.” Two actors were needed to perform each play, along with stagehands and people to prepare the liquid nitrogen ice cream. These students prepared rigorously for their performances, using fellow Union students and faculty as mock elementary school students to practice demonstrations. Andrew Stricklin, a junior at Union University, said, “I learned that … when people go and put on these plays … it’s a lot of work and it takes a lot of people willing to give up their time.” Demonstrations were scheduled to fit around Union students’ schedules and were performed at various schools in low-income neighborhoods around Jackson.

Union University student Andrew Stricklin encourages audience interaction during the play "What Makes the Loudest Boom?" at Lincoln Elementary School on April 12, 2013.

Union University student Andrew Stricklin encourages audience interaction during the play “What Makes the Loudest Boom?” at Lincoln Elementary School on April 12, 2013.

Upon visiting these schools, Union students were welcomed with open arms by students and teachers alike. Students eagerly bounced up and down to answer questions and yelled out answers when called upon. Tyler Byrd, a junior at Union University, said, “The teachers enjoyed it very much. They thanked us multiple times [for coming] … and they seemed very interested by most of it themselves.”

Students agreed that exposing kids to this game-show form of teaching and interaction encourages children to be inquisitive about the world around them and about science in general. Evan Lewoczko‎, a sophomore at Union University, said, “I think it was really a humbling experience because we realized that was us ever so long ago, and … some of us may have been thinking back to when we first got interested in chemistry.”

Union University students Andrew Stricklin and Phillip Kurtzweil call on students at Lane Elementary School on April 12, 2013.

Union University students Andrew Stricklin and Phillip Kurtzweil call on students at Lane Elementary School on April 12, 2013.

Fusion Science Theater shows allowed Union students to reach out to underprivileged youth in a unique, interactive way, allowing students who may not have had much exposure before to enjoy a hands-on experience in science. In the future, Union faculty and students hope to work together to create a play oriented toward high school students. Johnston, who is also faculty advisor to the Union University student chapter of the American Chemical Society, said that the plays require a lot of group commitment, work, and a clear purpose. Johnston said, “I think other schools should focus on the goal, which is helping students understand science, the scientific principle, and develop an interest in science.”

Brooklin Byrd is from Memphis, TN, and is a senior biology major/chemistry minor at Union University in Jackson, TN. She is involved with many organizations on campus, including the Union University Student Members of the American Chemical Society, in which she currently serves as the chapter secretary. After graduation from Union, Brooklin plans to attend dental school to become a doctor of dental surgery.

Brooklin Byrd is from Memphis, TN, and is a senior biology major/chemistry minor at Union University in Jackson, TN. She is involved with many organizations on campus, including the Union University Student Members of the American Chemical Society, in which she currently serves as the chapter secretary. After graduation from Union, Brooklin plans to attend dental school to become a doctor of dental surgery.

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4 thoughts on “Sharing Chemistry with Plays by Fusion Science Theater

  1. Pingback: Apply for the Student Chapter Inter-chapter Relations Grant! |

  2. Pingback: What Makes a Good Public Speaker? | Patrick Hay

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