The Greatest Challenge Huang Fellows Face: Lab Science Kits for Fourth GradersHuang Fellow Anthony Saldago Discusses The Project To Design Science Kits For Elementary School Students
When I was younger, nothing excited me more than figuring out why things work. I pulled apart items and assembled them again, frequently breaking household appliances in the process. For practical reasons, I stopped doing this. I realized this innocent curiosity is something we lose as we get older. Adults in our lives constantly badger us with the saying “curiosity killed the cat!” whenever our investigations go horribly wrong. Is this not the nature of science itself, though? Asking questions, investigating, and studying our passions seem to drift as we are burdened by the responsibilities of maturity, adulthood, and reality.
Designing a lab kit for fourth graders, in theory, should be an easy thing to do. However, it proved difficult for many of us – Huang Fellows. In our daily lives, we can become super focused on ourselves. It was an exercise to learn how to be curious again and relate to others. Trying to understand how we used to understand the world is an exciting concept. Many of our research paths have become specific to where intense language is prioritized. Although science doesn’t suffer because of this, our connection to the world and the next generation does.
Our guest, Willow Alston-Socha, was incredibly inspiring in this regard. A tradition to work with Huang Fellows to create science kits likely educates us more than the students we are making them for. She explained how students in the classroom are still discovering the world. We were asked to write down observations of a frog in a lake with ripples. The jam board filled with different comments in a myriad of sticky note colors. By the end of it, it seemed like every student had a different perspective of the same photo. Using this knowledge helped us in the lab kit. The priority became to allow the students to freely explore these scientific concepts so their own understandings of the world can be expanded upon. We also learned we need to make this project accessible so that any student could participate regardless of their background.
Because of this, we designed an experiment around light and the way it is impacted once passing through a medium. A fourth-grader won’t understand the mechanical physics of light through a college-level textbook. Envisioning a way to explain this concept was difficult for many of us. Nonetheless, we found a balance to keep the lesson both educational and engaging. In fact, we learned simplicity isn’t always a bad thing; it can be precious in communication and learning. Even our materials and directions were simple: a few cups, paper, markers, water, a handheld light (preferably from the tablets the children already had), a worksheet, and a small mirror. The science kit we made was designed with curiosity in mind, allowing kids to explore the topic freely. Once you learn something the first time, it is hard to duplicate the feeling of investigating that topic again. Finding a balance between guidance and free exploration was probably the most challenging aspect of this project.
Building this kit brought me back to those younger days of endless curiosity. Another activity we participated in was a jamboard of elementary school memories. Everyone had standout moments for them as early as elementary school that evidently influenced their careers. This activity gave me a new admiration for educators as communicators. Their ability to condense tough concepts, work on a budget, and keep young students engaged is astounding. As people presented their projects, it was evident that these projects could go on to inspire others to find their own passions. It was exciting to see the impact science and learning have on others. It brought me back to those many times I accidentally broke things, trying to figure out how they worked.
Anthony Salgado, Huang Fellow ’24
Anthony is a pre-med student from Atlanta, Georgia interested in majoring in political science.