Youth at fair learn science goes beyond lab, classroom

August 12, 2012

The exhibitors at the Agriculture-Science Street Fair had many lessons for the fairgoers crowded under the Show-Me tent on Saturday — What does a light wave have in common with Jolly Rancher candy? Can you make a robot from a toothbrush? What happens after a daisy is dipped in liquid nitrogen? — but the most important takeaway was this: Science is all around us, a part of our everyday lives.

Science and Citizens Organized for Purpose and Exploration (SCOPE) coordinated Saturday’s event and will coordinate others in the upcoming days with help from Missouri 4-H and the Missouri State Fair as part of Science and Technology Days at the fair. SCOPE’s goal for the events is to introduce families to the idea that science and innovation extend further than just labs and classrooms — they are basic components of life at home, at work and especially at the state fair.

“Everybody here is outreaching,” said Cynthia Kramer, executive director of SCOPE. “People here are the center of science and technology and they don’t even know it. What a gift to be able to put it under one umbrella!”

Kramer said she hoped fairgoers would come away from the street fair with the realization that science and technology were already part of their regular routine and that pursuing an interest in science can translate into valuable job prospects. This sentiment was echoed by Amanda Meek, a 4-H Science, Engineering and Technology educator at the 4-H Extension booth.

Meek and her co-workers were busy helping kids construct “eco-bots” from toothbrushes, batteries, mini-motors and tape, setting the little machines to work sweeping rice from squares of paper.

“Exploring science and technology opens career paths for them,” Meek said. She added that the hands-on activities available at the exhibition help kids take science beyond its regular classroom setting

“You can learn, ‘It’s not just a teacher lecturing me,’ ” Meek said. “They realize, ‘I can build an eco-bot. I did it.’ ”

Exhibitors were excited and encouraged by the turnout at the street fair.

“I’m really glad there’s so many people out here,” said Kelcie DeClue, a University of Missouri graduate and member of the Thermal Aid app design team. Her group was at the fair to exhibit the beta version of a smart phone application they created to help farmers monitor the heat stress of their animals.

Thermal Aid’s exhibit included both kid-friendly, hands-on experiments and more in-depth educational materials on the app. DeClue said she considered it crucial to promote science at events such as the street fair, especially to young people.

“I find it really important to impart scientific knowledge onto people,” DeClue said. “Schoolhouse Rock had it right when they said ‘knowledge is power.’ ”