Nov 192008
 
Authors: Alexandra Sieh

After 18 years, hundreds of hours put in by CSU students and travel to Ethiopia, Chile, Belize, Korea and all over the U.S., a hands-on CSU science program can claim this month it has reached out to 250,000 students, a milestone for the organization.

Started in 1990 by Brian Jones, an instructor in the Physics Department, the Little Shop of Physics has come to establish itself as a community program, bringing interactive science experiments not only to local schools but to the Midwest and global regions as well.

The goal is to make science fun, bringing it to kids in a way that shows them anyone can do science, Jones explained.

Nicole Prentice, a senior biological science major and second-year intern with the Little Shop of Physics, echoed this desire to reach the students, agreeing that the program is meant to engage kids rather than lecture them.

“A lot of teaching these days is test formatted,” Prentice said. “By doing something interactive, we can really reach students.”

“We’re here to touch students in a way they haven’t experienced physics or science.”

The shop is funded by CSU, the National Science Foundation and the Center for Multi-Scale Modeling of Atmospheric Processes (CMMAP), allowing the project to grow not only in the number of experiments but in volunteers.

This year, there are twelve CSU students regularly involved in the shop, nine of whom are interns, with their wages funded by the CMMAP donations.

It’s the students, Jones said, who drive this entire program.

“This has all been student focused,” Jones said. “It’s the undergraduates that make this go.”

Beginning as a program for a guest lecture at Windsor Middle School, Jones explained how the Little Shop of Physics became its own program after teachers from the school asked about expanding the program.

“If I made the presentation bigger, I couldn’t do it on my own. So I went to my students and asked them, ‘Should we go bigger?’ They were keen to do it,” Jones said.

From there, the program grew in size and popularity, funding its projects through donations of money and materials from interested schools and participants.

Beginning with middle schools, the Little Shop of Physics is now a community effort, traveling to elementary schools and high schools, visiting every age from preschoolers to teenagers.

“It’s been interesting working with the different age groups,” Jones said. “They all get different things out of it.”

“When they’re little, they’re very touchy, always grabbing things trying to figure out how they work. By the time we get to high school students, they’re making direct connections to what they’ve learned in class.”

While the program focuses on an educational promotion of science, Jeremy May, a physics and natural science education double major and second-year intern with the Little Shop of Physics, explained that it is far more than an attempt to teach science — it is a way to get them to have fun with it.

“I think that the kids learn some science, but in 45 minutes you can’t learn a lot,” May said. “More importantly, they really enjoy it. They didn’t know science could be fun.”

“Many kids even say that this is better than recess,” Prentice said.

As the Little Shop of Physics travels across the nation and around the world, they visit schools that are less privileged than others, working with sparse supplies and resources, Jones said.

As Jones explains, some of the students at Wyoming and South Dakota reservations are under-funded and isolated, rarely coming into contact with these types of experiments, let alone college students.

Along with exploring hands-on science education, Jones said they are “trying to demystify their ideas (about higher education) and make college more accessible.”

In light of their recent accomplishment of visiting over a quarter of a million students, Jones said there is still so much more they hope to do, and he’s not the only one with goals for the future.

“It would be really amazing if, in the future, other schools would contribute,” Prentice said. “There are only so many schools we can go to, so if more people could get involved, we could reach more students at more schools.”

For Jones, it’s the spread of education and experience that he sees as key in the future.

“My long term goal is to go out of business,” Jones said with a smile. “I want to get to the point where the types of things we’re doing are things everyone does.”

“I hope we can give our message so effectively that there’s no need for us anymore.”

Staff writer Alexandra Sieh can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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Little Shop of Physics broadcasts its program on Friday and Saturday nights on Channel 10.

Visit their Web site at http://littleshop.physics.colostate.edu/.

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