From Explosions to Exploration: Unveiling the Impact of Science Kit Training

Nathan Maldonado reminisces about science kit training, highlighting communication, personal connections, and student backgrounds.

Throughout our science kit training, we were asked to put ourselves back in a fourth-grade classroom. Where was I in the fourth grade? Oh, I was a miscreant. After school, my cousins and I had a Friday tradition of gathering M-80s (powerful firecrackers) and testing them in my grandmother’s garden. We even had a routine on how to get away with our crime: it must have been
the stray cats!

Afterward, I proceeded to make a series of decently alarming “how-to” Google searches for a ten-year-old regarding the mechanisms of these minor explosives. While I have since stopped setting flower pots forty feet in the air and framing neighborhood pets, I found that explanations and unanswered questions were everywhere.

Finally, after serving my time all weekend for my crimes, I would go back to school on Monday and try to stay awake during whatever health science lecture was going on at the time. See, one thing about me is that I will find any opportunity to nap. Class? Yup. Lunch? Definitely. Recess? Please. However, I found that the only class my precocious younger self could stay awake for was not until later in seventh-grade robotics.

“He shared with me that he could never be certain if we students had a loving home after school, so he attempted to create one for us in his classroom.”

During our Huang summer, we were taught to emphasize science communication and acknowledge our audience. Oftentimes, as college students, we will describe professors by saying, “They know what they are talking about, but they just cannot teach.” As part of our science kit training, we are forced to acknowledge our audiences and recognize these disparities to convey ideas of science, much like my seventh-grade robotics teacher.

Inspired by Mr. Merrill’s attitude, I recently reached out to him and told him all about my life after middle school. He sent me videos of his current students testing out robotics kits I made in his class seven years ago. Recently, however, I was a student volunteer at a local Durham middle school and Title I school, much like mine in Los Angeles. I asked Mr. Merrill how he maintained such enthusiasm and remained passionate about teaching. He shared with me that he could never be certain if we students had a loving home after school, so he attempted to create one for us in his classroom.

He knew my entire life and saw me grow into the person I am now with and without institutional, parental, and financial support. Suddenly, I was back in his classroom, playing with LEGOs and block coding. Therefore, these kits demonstrate an introduction not just to science but an acknowledgement of every student’s background and place in science research.

Nathan Maldonado, Huang Fellow ’26

Vivian AppleNathan Maldonado is a first-generation college student from Central California studying linguistics, computer science, and psychology..