May 25, 2019 — “It stinks,” Sydney said as she took the dead worm out of the jar. “Stinks!” The 8-year-old brought the worm back to her mom, Nicole, who winced.
“It does stink,” she said as Sydney placed the worm on the blue tray, ready to dissect it. Nicole and Sydney stared at the worm for a moment.
“I’m nervous,” said Sydney.
“It’s just like the licorice,” Nicole said, referring to a Red Vine licorice stick the two had split and pinned open for practice minutes earlier.
“Don’t forget to irrigate the worm!” the instructor said out loud to the five other groups of parents and kids.
“Can you help me?” Sydney asked, looking up to her mom. “You need to handle it, honey,” Nicole answered.
Sydney used a pair of scissors to poke the worm as a small bit of black goo oozed out.
“Eeeewwww,” she said. She started to laugh with her mom.
“These are dead worms,” Sydney reassured her mom as she began cutting. It was difficult at first, but once the point of the scissors got jammed into the head, the incision became easier.
“There you go, you’re making bigger cuts!” Nicole said as bodily fluids began to pour out of the worm.
“It’s black! Uggghhhh!” Sydney groaned, but then started to laugh. She was having fun.
“A lot of fun,” Sydney pointed out.
It was Family Science Night at the Siuslaw Elementary School on Thursday, a combination of exhibition and participation that brings students and their parents in for a night of hands-on learning. The fifth-grade hallway was filled with dioramas on different animals, along with experiments students had (and were still) performing — “Can you tell the difference between a name brand cracker and a generic?”
A few of the opened classrooms housed teachers who were showing off what STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) lessons they were teaching.
Other rooms had members from Glen’s Gizmos — “We travel and do science and art education,” said Joel Thomas, who founded the company. He was teaching the worm dissection class when Sydney asked him about the liquid coming out of the worms.
“A combination of blood and…” He paused, stopped and whispered, “A lot of worm poop. That’s what you’re going to clean out with the water.”
He pointed at a squirt bottle on the table. Sydney picked up the bottle and began gently pouring the water on the dissected worm. The worm carcass was becoming a lake of goo and water, obscuring the anatomy.
“I think you have to do it harder to get the water out,” Nicole said. “Squirt kind of hard.”
Sydney put both hands on the bottle and squeezed. Blood, poop and water splattered everywhere. They laughed out loud, noticing the worm’s intestines were now noticeable.
“I’m seeing dirt and intestines right there,” Sydney said. As Joel went over the anatomy of the worm, Sydney pointed to each one.
“You can see a little white tissue, which is the brain,” Joel said.
“Right here,” Sydney said, pointing out the brain to Nicole.
“There are five hearts of the earthworm,” Joel said.
“Wow! Right here!” Sydney said, pointing out the hearts and moving on to the intestines.
Sydney wanted to be in science, she said.
“Experiments, generally,” was her interest. When asked what specific science she was interested in (biology, physics, etc.), Sydney said she was still figuring things out.
“I like a lot of stuff. I’m young. I have a long way to go,” she said.
As to what she liked about dissecting the worm? “It’s interesting. You got to see the body.”
She poked a muscle on the worm and the tail twitched.
“Oh! I can make the tail move!”
As it was time to clean up, Sydney looked determined.
“I want to do another one,” she said. “I want to see a different worm, probably younger.”
The first worm she had was older; younger worms have different looking organs, so Sydney wanted to compare the two. She went to Joel, who usually doesn’t get repeat requests. He laughed at first.
“You really do want to do another one? I didn’t take you seriously,” he said.
“Yep,” said Sydney. She had an experiment to get on with.
Over at the Siuslaw Elementary gym, dozens of families were trying out individual, do-it-yourself STEM projects.
“We’re trying to build a bridge of Legos from the edge of the table to see how far you can get it,” said 11-year-old Dylan. The goal was to make it as long as possible without it breaking or hitting the ground. “We were at 79 inches,” he said as he and his father, Bobby, broke down the bridge. They wanted to try and break their record.
“We got to a point where the Lego’s were flexing so much, the plastic was bending to the point it wouldn’t stay off the ground. Now we’re reconstructing it like a 2-by-4,” Bobby said.
The problem was the duct tape they used to hold of the base of the lego bridge that was resting on the table. They had it secured with duct tape, but Dylan and Bobby were looking for a better way to secure it.
“Weight becomes an issue too,” Bobby said. “Once it gets to a certain point, it’s too heavy and —”
“— Dad!” Bobby’s daughter, Pearl, said as she ran up. “You want to go to do something really hard?”
She pointed to a plastic ball on the table.
“The ball,” she said ominously.
Bobby was still trying to get the bridge put away, so Pearl opted for an exclusive interview with the Siuslaw News. She went to the ball and held it up. Inside was a group of intricate ramps. The plastic ball also housed a silver marble, which Pearl had to navigate through the maze of ramps.
“So, it’s hard because it always falls,” Pearl said as she tilted the globe to get the marble in starting position. She got it ready, started tilting quickly. Plink — the marble fell off the ramp. She positioned the marble again, this time tilting more slowly. It went over more ramps.
“I tried so hard!” Pearl said, deciding to look at the long game. She tilted the globe around and around, looking to see exactly where the marble needed to go. “Around, and then like that,” she said, pointing out the puzzle’s direction. “And then in the middle. And tilt it so the ball can go right there. And then go. And then go down here. And then you tilt it. And then it goes in here.”
Does she like science?
“Yeah,” she said quickly, her focus on tilting the ball. She would tilt it once, causing the marble to slowly go to one ramp. She carefully, slowly tilted the globe again. It was getting tense. Almost two minutes went by and she became more excited, speeding up the twisting and turning of the globe. Plink. She screamed.
She thought about her turns for a second, on why the second run was better than the first.
“Because I tried it more,” she said. “I practiced.”
Determined, she tilted the marble back into position and tried again. She wasn’t in the mood for talking; she was going to beat this thing.
By then, Dylan and Bobby had built a fairly long bridge with their building blocks. Dylan was holding down the base.
“You kind of have to. I could bet more duct tape, but…”
Bobby took out a measuring tape and determined the length of the bridge.
“This is only 78,” he said with a sigh, one inch from their record.
“I knew it!” Dylan said. “I don’t know how it’s only 78, but I knew it.”
“There’s something we could do …” Bobby said as Dylan took his hands off the bridge. It wobbled a bit but settled. The two worked frantically worked together to find the right bricks before the bridge started to sink, touching the ground.
“I don’t know how we’re going to get it, man. I don’t know how we’re going to get that extra two inches.”
The two rummaged through different pieces. One didn’t fit, another wasn’t even an actual Lego piece. Then Bobby discovered a long, thick piece that may have been light enough to do the trick.
“Look at that, Dylan. The game is back on,” Bobby said. Dylan held the base and Bobby started to put the Legos together. In actuality, Bobby was playing with the bricks more than Dylan.
“I heard that,” Bobby said. “And I’m not going to deny it.”
“Well, Legos are awesome,” Dylan said.
Dylan said he liked to science of building things.
“I like to build. Lots of things,” he said. But he hadn’t been able to play with the bricks for a while. “We used to all the time,” he said. “I don’t even know when I played anymore. With school and stuff, it’s been crazy.”
“We got a huge bend right now. Do we have anything longer? It’s killing us!”
Bobby’s son Landon started grabbing Legos, as did the other kids. Pretty soon all of the children, including Pearl, were helping find the Legos and break the record. After putting on two more pieces, Bobby yelled, “Look at that, we got it!”
“Yes!” one of the kids yelled.
The bridge bent, bowed, and then crashed to the ground, Legos everywhere. Everyone groaned — they didn’t get a chance to measure it.
“This one got a lot longer,” Dylan said. “The other one went down so far. I think we were able to add on so much more, and it wasn’t touching the ground.”
Another student brought out a measuring tape to see if they could have beat the record. It would have been 80 inches, no doubt.
“We’ll just go with 90. It’s like measuring a fish, it just gets bigger the more you talk about it.”
Back in the main section of the elementary, Siuslaw teacher Greg Jorgenson’s fifth-grade classroom was abuzz with half a dozen robots zipping along the floor. Children were steering them with computer tablets.
“That is Dash right there, that one is called Cue,” Greg said. “I got one from the school. And then Suzanne Mann-Heintz from the school board saw them, saw the kids loving them, and wrote a grant for me with Western Lane Community Foundation, so we got a bunch more.”
Right now, the robots were in fun play mode, allowing the students to play. But usually, Greg uses them to teach applied coding.
“They’ve done a lot of coding on the computer, but this way they can see it in action, aside from just the coding,” he said. “They have different sounds they can code in here and some different challenges and tasks that they can meet. How far they want it to go, and how fast. It varies.”
Greg pulled out a tablet and began block coding a robot, turning on its blue lights automatically. The kids were racing the robots around, laughing and talking as they made them do spins.
Abby was a little more determined than the others as she steered hers throughout the crowd. She was age 10.
“No, 11! What age am I?” she said with a laugh.
She watched her robot intently as she steered it in a circle. What did she think of the experience?
“Fun,” she said, intent on steering.
You want to do this when you grow up?
“Yes,” she said, steering it in a circle.
“Anything with a screen, we’re all about,” her dad said. “She’s all about it.”
The robot started mumbling. Abby’s eyes lit up.
“Did you hear that? It made a sound, I think. It’s hard to hear. I think it just said something. I don’t know what it’s saying.”
She steered the robot up to her, pressed a button.
“Fancy meeting you here,” the robot said. Abby laughed out loud.
Outside the classroom, an experiment was being run by the Kindness Club.
“We made boats out of tin foil and you put it in the water, and then you add pennies,” 12-year-old Macy said. “You put as many as you can in the boat before it sinks.”
Macy said the record was 189 pennies.
“235,” her friend, 11-year-old Mya said. “It was 235.”
She pointed up to the score sheet. Abby held the top spot.
“I got, like, 57,” Macy said.
“I got 68,” Mya said, then laughed. “The first time I did it, I got 10.”
According to Macy, the trick was making the tinfoil flat and big, “Like more surface area.”
She said she liked science sometimes, though she was more interested in math.
“I like doing experiments,” she added. “We did an energy one where we had to do conductors where you had to keep the water warm for seven hours. It was hard, but fun.”
Mya wasn’t a fan of the math, but she loved the science.
“You get to try different things, and there’s a lot of different things you can do with stuff,” she said. “I don’t know what my favorite science is. I like a lot of it. Stream Team is fun. It’s a class we do at school, and we go on field trips and stuff and learn about water quality and the life cycle.”
“Macroinvertebrates,” Macy added.
“Yes,” Mya said. “Maybe it’s something I want to do.”