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Modern Science Enrichment

Imagine you are back in school, say, in seventh grade.  You are in science class, and in the middle of a module that includes volcanoes.  When you arrive for class you notice a strange adult talking with your teacher at the front of the room.  After the bell rings, your teacher announces that the class has a special guest, a geologist who came to talk with the class.  Wow—a break from routine!  Maybe this will be a good day after all.

The geologist starts talking about the kinds of volcanoes, something you covered in class last week.  He then lists the kinds of volcanic rocks and the minerals they contain.  Some of the names are kind of long and complicated.  He reaches into a box and takes out five pieces of rock and places them on the table in front.  One at a time, he holds them up and repeats the minerals each one contains.  On the board he makes a list with the names in some kind of order, and says something about the kind of eruptions that each type comes from.  The other students around you are getting restless and fidgety.  The geologist starts to draw shapes of volcanoes and again holds up the rocks one at a time and uses some more complicated words.  Your teacher makes a comment that time is running out…

Let’s rewind and start over.  Imagine that after the teacher introduces the visiting geologist he stands up, shakes a bottle of soda, puts it into a shallow tub on the front table, and asks “If we open the top now, what will happen?”  Several of your classmates call out that it will splurt out and make a mess.  Will he do it?  Yes!  He twists off the top and out comes a fountain of soda followed by lots of laughs and loud comments from the class.  He asks about what happened, and writes down a few ideas from the class on the board.  He then takes out a bottle of juice, shakes it and again puts it in the tub.  Again he asks the class to predict what will happen, opens the top, and writes down ideas from the class.  The discussion gets into what made the soda erupt out—something about gas dissolved in liquid under pressure.

The geologist flips open his laptop, already plugged into the digital projector, and shows some cool videos of erupting volcanoes.  Some are exploding ash and glowing lava, on others the lava just flows out and runs down hill.  Now it makes sense what is happening, and the class explains how gas drives some eruptions more than others.  He passes out piles of rocks to each table group and asks how you might tell from the cooled lava rocks which ones came out in different ways.  You get to work with a magnifying lens and…all too soon the class is over.

Which experience would you enjoy more?  These may be extreme examples, but the key difference is that the second version allows students to investigate and discover on their own, and to help lead the investigation.  In essence, they are learning about science by doing science.  If we want to promote science learning and appreciation, we have to offer enrichment opportunities that can inspire all the students.