Western’s new Science & Arts Early Release program offers hair-raising investigation of physics

Children crowded around the silver orb, waiting for their turn to feel static electricity run through their bodies.

Last Wednesday, Oct. 10, children in grades K-5 participated in Western Youth Programs new Science and Arts Early Release Program “Machines and Moving Things: Physics” magnetism and electricity session.

Youth Programs director Debbie Gibbons called the session “a hair-raising experience.” Students used a Van de Graaf electro-magnetic charge generator in Western’s Science, Math and Technology Education Building to experiment with static electricity after they practiced by rubbing balloons on the carpet and their hair.

On Wednesday, Oct. 24, students will have the opportunity to explore why light is both obvious and mysterious – such as why sunshine makes us warm during the day but people have to use incandescent and florescent bulbs to produce light at night, Gibbons said.

Participants will have access to SMATE’s black lights, fluorescent lights and optics equipment, she said. Registration is open while space is available.

Designed for K-5 students in the Bellingham School District, Western Youth Programs’ Science & Arts Early Release is an extraordinary opportunity to explore the fun of science and art in a university setting, she said. Taught in part by Woodring College of Education students, each session begins with 45 minutes of recreation activities before participants settle down to learn about one of many exciting topics.

“The program’s benefits are twofold: participants get enrichment and Western students get teaching experience,” Gibbons said.

Western Youth Programs piloted its early release program in winter 2011 as a response to Bellingham School District parents who requested after-school programming that was educational as well as fun, Gibbons said. The successful program was expanded for the 2012-13 school year, she said. Each Wednesday session is from 1:45 to 5 p.m., and participants can choose to enroll in one or all of the program dates.

During the next session from 1:45-5 p.m. on Oct. 24, participants will:

  • Investigate the sun, light and shadows with different light sources and objects to find out what light is and how light travels.
  • Find out if light is a single color or many colors.
  • Figure out if light has a frequency, like sound.
  • Learn about common properties of light.
  • Experiment with tuning forks and water to discover interesting facts about sound waves, vibrations and how ears give people the ability to hear different sounds.
  • Record their observations and findings in a science workbook to take home.

In the Nov. 14 session, participants will explore gravity and astronomy with former NASA astronaut and Western professor George “Pinky” Nelson, who Gibbons said has made lectures and demonstrations fun and interactive for children in the past.

Winter and spring themes will include zoology, earth science and visual arts. Early release classes cost $39 per session or $33 each when enrolling in five or more per quarter.

A 20-minute parking permit for convenient drop-off and pick-up will be provided to participants at no additional cost. Students are asked to bring a rain jacket, a healthy snack and drink, and a curious mind.

For more information or to register online, visit www.wwu.edu/youth, email youth@wwu.edu or call (360) 650-3308.

Youth in Western's Science and Arts Early Release Program study the power of magnetism at a recent class on campus. The topic of the next session is light. Courtesy photo