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Four CHCCS Elementary Schools Attend UNC Science is Awesome Day

“That’s magic…No, that’s physics!” was a child’s exclamation overheard on the UNC campus one morning last week.

Nearly 350 fourth-grade students from four CHCCS elementary schools “went to class” at Carolina on May 14, and they experienced a stimulating, inspiring mix of science lessons and activities, courtesy of the UNC Department of Physics and Astronomy. Science is Awesome Outreach Day is offered to CHCCS Title 1 schools as a way to promote the science professions to low-income and under-served students, and Estes Hills, Frank Porter Graham, Scroggs and Northside Elementary Schools all participated in the free program.

Students attended demonstrations and presentations in Phillips and Chapman Halls, so they were able to “try on” how it feels to sit in a college classroom. The subjects included mechanics and electricity, but a big crowd-pleaser was the conversation with Dr. Nicholas Law, astronomy professor, on the ongoing search for alien life. As Law told the UNC newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel, “I think the concepts that we’re talking about are actually not that complicated; there’s no esoteric math involved. We’re talking about concepts [the kids are] exposed to in science fiction, that they see around them all of the time and are automatically interested in. It’s just a pleasure to be able to bring that research to them.”

FPG students at UNC Science Day Students participated in three concurrent stations that revealed various aspects of physics and astronomy concepts. They engaged in a hands-on maker activity, creatively applying forces and motion standards in a Rube Goldberg Challenge, and they judged presentations in a reverse science fair to learn about the current exciting research by three UNC professors. The event was supported by the Stirling Foundation.

Michael Jakubiak, fourth grade teacher at Scroggs Elementary, said, "This experience was so valuable for so many of my students. One of my students in particular has been struggling with a lot of things going on at home and has some challenges that keep him from meeting his academic potential in the classroom. Science is a real passion for him and to see his excitement and enthusiasm was amazing." 

Dr. Jennifer Weinberg-Wolf is an assistant professor of physics at UNC, as well as a Northside Elementary parent. She is the primary organizer of Science is Awesome Day, and she said, “We had a fantastic turnout from all members of the Physics and Astronomy Department (undergraduates, graduate students, faculty and staff) who were impressed by how much the kids already knew. We got to show so many children that physicists don’t look like their stereotypical old Caucasian men (probably with crazy Einstein hair). Exposing all these kids to possible future careers and thinking about STEM beyond health sciences is exciting and fun.”

Ashley, a fourth grade student at FPG, said, “This will affect me in the future because now I realize you need science for basically any career you choose.”

"Watching our students come alive when listening to scientists talk about their research and to ask questions was amazing," said Scroggs Elementary teacher, Kristen Perone.

FPG student at UNC Science Day Jennifer Lange, Estes Hills teacher, said, “It was an amazing day! As a teacher, I loved hearing the excitement from my students about being on campus and sitting in these new and different classrooms. Throughout the day, I heard comments like ‘Science IS awesome!’, ‘I can't wait to go to college,’ and ‘I didn't know this was part of science!’ Seeing our students become so quickly engaged and excited by the new ideas and concepts being presented was incredible to witness. At the end of the day, I know everyone, students and teachers alike, walked away with a new sense of excitement for learning.”

Ashley Quick-Hooker, Northside Elementary teacher, said, “The excitement was great. Life changing for some students. Some students haven’t even considered a career in physics or science. After this trip several students expressed interest in pursuing a science field. Many students had never been on campus. Giving students exposure to college outside of sports is critical. I remember sitting in the demonstration room and hearing all the excitement in the room. This was an experience that many kids will not forget.”