As the legend goes, when famed Greek mathematician Archimedes discovered the principle of water displacement, he let out a cry: “Eureka!” he proclaimed. “I have found it!” Yet even before Archimedes spilled water from his bathtub, science had long celebrated the sheer, infectious joy of discovery.
That giddy enthusiasm was palpable at Puente’s Family Science Night on Thursday. In Pescadero Elementary School’s multipurpose room, shrieks of delight could be heard as kids swirled miniature tornados inside plastic bottles, scrubbed oil residue from bird feathers and dipped pH strips inside cups of vinegar to test acidification levels.
For more than five years, the annual event has brought an array of science activities to the South Coast. Held in partnership with Puente, Stanford University’s Haas Center for Public Service and the La Honda-Pescadero Unified School District, the program gives participants of all ages the chance to harness their scientific curiosity.
“We want to integrate students more into the (science, technology, engineering and math) field and give them a bit more exposure than they would normally get in a standard curriculum,” said Lizeth Hernandez, Puente’s education director. “This is more engaging, and these are things that you can do at home. They don’t require a laboratory or a full science room.
“We want that for our community and for the students,” she added.
While Puente and the school district provide the event’s venue and community outreach, Hernandez said, Stanford brings the activities themselves — and the student volunteers who shepherd attendees through the experiments. This year, they brought 16 activities related to environmental issues.
“When I came and met in person with Liz and the Puente staff, we talked about what themes would be relevant to the community right now,” said Hava Schwartz, the Cardinal Commitment Coordinator for Stanford’s Haas Center. “Coming off the forest fires and the air quality concerns, combined with the water quality concerns of the area, it became self-evident that the environment was something we ought to focus on.”
Schwartz said that each activity was designed by one of Stanford’s education partnership fellows, paid student staff members who work to cultivate the program’s curriculum.
“And, of course, they are doing all of their schoolwork simultaneously, so it was really quite a feat,” she added.
One of the activity stations had kids and their parents combine different materials, like clay, grass, soil and sand, inside a plastic cup before dousing everything with water. The idea, explained Stanford student Maddie Morales, is to help participants understand the role that plants play in preventing soil erosion.
“If you just have sand and dirt, it’s going to collapse,” she said. “Whereas if you have real grass, it stays together better than (other) materials.”
Another activity addressed how the Earth’s oceans are becoming more acidic as a result of carbon pollution. After adding varying amounts of vinegar to cups of baking soda, participants dunked strips of pH paper in the solution to visualize the process of ocean acidification.
“By learning about our oceans and the environment, I think it’s going to allow these kids to help the next generation,” said Erin Cole, a Stanford volunteer.
Schwartz said that the event is invaluable in giving Stanford students a unique, hands-on teaching experience with children of all ages. For the South Coast families in attendance, she hopes that science night encourages them to have “Eureka!” moments of their own.
“I hope this encourages more curiosity among the kids,” she said. “And that they can go home and dream about some of the activities here. And really see (science) as something totally feasible and interesting.
“This is just so incredibly fun,” she added. “You have to see it to believe it.”