Monday, October 29, 2012

At the IU Astronomy and Physics Open House

I don't know how much better you could have it than homeschooling next door to a big university. Check it:

  • On chilly days, we walk to the greenhouse.
  • Last week, we went to a free kids' yoga class at the anthropology museum.
  • Theater and drama festivals often perform excellent children's plays.
  • When Willow discovered that there are a bunch of Rainbow Fairy books not yet available in the US, the IU library inter-library loaned them to us from London.
  • We hang out at the art museum a LOT.
  • The creek that runs through campus is excellent for playing in.
  • Around Halloween, the girls trick-or-treat at an IU basketball scrimmage.
I don't have quite the intimacy with the university that I did when I was earning my Master's degrees there and teaching there, taking the girls with me to office hours and workshop days with my students, giving them free-range in fourth-floor Ballantine and the grad student lounge. Fortunately, the university is good to its townies, so you don't have to be a grad student who spends half your days skulking around your exam committee's offices to enjoy its amenities. 

Case in point: this weekend, I roused poor Matt from his deep 9:00 am slumber to come with us to the Astronomy and Physics open house. The place was pretty crowded with school groups from all over the area, but nevertheless all the student volunteers made plenty of time to play with us:

whisper dishes
bed of nails

assembling our Galileoscope (which we got to take home!!!)
The Galileoscope kit was assembled at a workshop that Willow and I attended at the open house; we had a LOT of help from the students running the workshop! Another family, consisting of a dad with his son and daughter, sat across from us at this workshop--the dad and his son, who was perhaps a couple of years older than Willow, put together their Galileoscope while mostly ignoring the daughter, who looked about Willow's age. The poor baby just sat there, plaintively whining over and over, "I want to help! Let ME do something!". At the end of the workshop, she got to put on the sticker that reminds you not to point your Galileoscope at the sun; THERE'S a little girl being encouraged in the hard sciences for you!

answering Solar System quiz questions for prizes of pencils and lollipops

making a model comet using dry ice, water, dirt, and syrup--these were AMAZING!!!

piloting a model Mars Rover--the rover had a camera whose image was projected to the room

coffee filter chromatography

dry ice bowling, making use of dry ice's immediate transformation from solid to gas
We really should have spent the entire day there, but eventually us grown-ups were so burdened with balloons and dyed coffee filters and model comets in Ziplock bags and candy and Galileoscopes and free textbooks that we called it a morning well spent and went home to make lunch and get Sydney dressed for her ballet class. It was a perfect morning, however, at the perfect kind of event. And my favorite thing about the open house, the thing that made it so perfect to me, is that it WASN'T perfect. The students doing the physics show couldn't get their grand finale demonstration to work. The student running the dry ice bowling almost let Sydney pick up a piece of dry ice with her bare hand (but he DIDN'T!). A professor in charge had to remind the student demonstrating the Tesla coil to, you know, ground it first. My kids are so used to attending splashy hands-on science museums where all the demonstrations work perfectly and all the shows are slick and well-rehearsed that I think that they sometimes get the idea that science isn't necessarily real, you know? That it isn't messy, with mistakes more often than not. They loved that the students running the open house were well-informed, of course, and friendly, and that they gave great kid-friendly explanations of each activity, but they also loved that they were clearly real people, with syrup all over their shirts from helping kids make comets all morning.

Because when the woman with syrup all over her shirt from making comets all morning talks about how great science is, you know you've got to believe her.

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