Everyone enjoys seeing explosions, goo and reactions that produce a frothing mess. The bicarbonate “volcano” is a good example. In fact, at a recent primary school Science Fair I saw no less than three examples of the ilk – and I’ll admit that my son has a small one in his collection of science gear.
The problem is, this form of entertainment is often called a science experiment, which it is not. They are demonstrations at best, and pure theatre at the worst.
I hate it when people feel that science needs to be “sexed-up”. Young minds have a natural curiosity for the natural world. Therefore, real life suits them just fine. A rock from a volcano or a dead insect under a magnifying glass are sufficient to keep them enthralled.
For older, more hardened kids, a fake, frothing volcano isn’t going to win them over for long.
It’s time for them to move beyond the ‘what’ to the ‘why’. Beyond the product, to the process. I think that for older kids, the thrill comes from stepping behind the curtain of science. Not being passive observers of phenomena, but active participants in the discovery process. That is, doing a real experiment that tests an idea and seeks new knowledge, rather than following a recipe to cause a reaction.
I was recently at a lecture by Dennis Schatz, and went away with one key message: If you demonstrate something to a kid, you can rob them of the thrill of discovery. Instead, you should guide them to find things out for themselves. They may even end up showing you something new.