Senior Sleuths Sought
Photos By Dr. Edward Max
Help wanted: Science enthusiasts for temporary assignment working with youngsters with infectious curiosity; volunteers must be able to communicate passion for discovery. Warning: Learning may prove contagious. Lecturers need not apply.
It's not a real ad, but it could be. Adventure in Science (AIS), the hands-on education activity for children ages 8-11, is gearing up for its fall 1997 season at NIH and is looking to recruit new teacher-volunteers.
Begun 23 years ago in Gaithersburg by a now-retired NASA scientist who wanted to bring to life science concepts that schools often make boring, AIS is planning its fifth year at NIH. The program starts in October, meeting every Saturday for about 2 hours, and runs through March. Teacher-volunteers, many of whom have careers in science and math, agree to present interactive sessions to a group of about 8 to 10 children on one Saturday morning (or more, if they desire). Some past topics have included "M&Ms and Data Analysis," "A Visit to the Fourth Dimension," "Inside a Frog," and "Why a Fly?"
Although the program's main goal is to show children the fun of exploring scientific topics, many of AIS's volunteers also claim both personal and professional benefits from their experiences with the children.
"One of the unintended bonuses I've found from doing activities like AIS is that it can give me a whole new perspective on my own work," explains Dr. Rosemarie Hunziker of NIAID's Division of Intramural Research. Impressed by program organizers during the initial interviews for volunteers back in 1992, she has been an AIS teacher ever since. "Children ask very naive but intelligent questions. We have to break our knowledge down to 'first principles' to answer some of their queries, and sometimes it gives us pause. I have come back from a session with third graders and realized that I learned something myself from answering their questions."
Dr. Robert Yarchoan, chief of NCI's HIV and AIDS Malignancy Branch and a 3-year AIS volunteer who last season offered a session on "Increasing Your Body's Energy Output," agrees. "It has been quite rewarding to see the world through their eyes and to see how quickly they can grasp concepts," he says. "I have found that teaching an AIS course gives a new sense of the process of science and how to ask good questions."
Dr. Ed Max, an FDA scientist who helped bring AIS to NIH, compares taking an "adventure in science" to being a detective on the way to solving some fascinating puzzle. Science presented in school is often just another thing to memorize from a book, he believes, "but if young people are actually involved in picking up the clues, it makes it a lot more fun and they learn a lot more. For me and a lot of the other volunteers, watching a new idea dawn on kids -- an idea they've never seen before or something they've never really understood -- creates an excitement and a joy for us all."
What AIS needs currently are some "senior sleuths" who will donate a couple of hours one Saturday (or more) to demonstrate some lab technique or scientific concept for a group of eager young apprentices. Volunteers can create the projects themselves, or use some that have worked well in the past -- as long as there is decidedly more hands-on than hands-off.
"One of the things I say to the kids is that sometime in your scientific career you will be the first person in the universe to know a particular thing, probably at the end of some really neat experiment," says Hunziker. "That moment of discovery is one of the most satisfying, exhilarating, peaceful, terrifying, joyful, astonishing, fulfilling, thrilling human experiences.
"This program has been successful for over 23 years because of a very simple formula: scientists who love their work spend Saturday mornings with curious children who love to ask questions and 'get dirty,'" she concludes. "What more could you ask for?"
For more information on AIS, or to volunteer, call site coordinator Blanche O'Neill, 5-3726.
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