Athletics and Activities (ATAC) - Science
If you're interested in explosions, reactions, dissections and setting fire to things – and want to get to grips with oobleck and ‘elephant's toothpaste’ – you need to join the after school Science Club.
Upper School Chemistry teacher Richard Fitzpatrick loves playing with fire. “My favourite demonstration is to take the gas from one of the Bunsen burner outlets, bubble it through a bowl of soapy water and set it on fire. You get five or six feet of flames and then, in a controlled environment, you can set fire to bubbles on the students’ hands too.”
That might not be on the syllabus, but it’s typical of the activities at the after school Science Club, which Richard started last year. “I’m not saying they don’t enjoy their classes, but this allows them to have more of a sense of play.” Henri Staehelin (Grade 10) signed up because he wanted the chance to do more hands-on investigations, working out solutions through trial and error. “Instead of being told which experiments to do, we have challenges, like creating a parachute and seeing how fast you can make it travel,” he says.
The motivated and curious young scientists at ZIS aren’t content to let Richard set the agenda – rather, the club is led by their interests. He says: “One of the students wanted to do some dissections, for example, so we met up one lunchtime and I showed her how to dissect an eyeball and then she demonstrated it to the group: how to open it up, take out the lens and show how that magnifies things.”
Ella Kollstad (Grade 12) wanted to encourage Lower School students to embrace science, so she and a friend set up four sessions for them. She says this was challenging at times – especially keeping the children’s attention without talking down to them – and not everything went to plan. “One day, we made ice-cream three different ways: dry ice, an ice-cream machine and an ice and salt mixture, but the mixture didn’t work, which was disappointing. I don’t think the kids minded, though – they just waited for the ice-cream from the machine.”
Ella is not sure how many scientific principles they managed to convey, but she was happy with the feedback, regardless. “One of the parents said their son was always in a good mood afterwards and excited to learn about science, which was really our aim.”
While Zarish Siddiqui (Grade 6) wasn’t a fan of every activity the Science Club undertook (she found watching dissections “not very pleasant”), she loved making oobleck, a substance that has properties of both liquids and solids. “That was my favourite. It was cool how it was solid but then it melted – it was fun to play with.”
Club members’ passion for science extends beyond the school. The Swiss Young Naturalists' Tournament is a prestigious competition held in Zurich that requires students to undertake in-depth investigations to prove their understanding of scientific concepts. Henri was part of the team that went this year and says it was a fun and educational experience, as well as a very proud moment. “Not only do you have to do an experiment, you have to present the data and try to oppose each other’s work to help improve it. It really expands your knowledge because you need to pay such attention to detail.”
“I like the element of trial and error. Instead of being told which experiments to do, we get challenges – like creating a parachute, and seeing how fast you can make it travel”
Another exciting opportunity for older students was a visit to CERN’s S’Cool Lab in Geneva. Richard says: “They got to make a cloud chamber – an experiment designed for them to see some of the particles going through clouds. They were actually deflecting beams of electrons, which is really highlevel physics – it was fantastic.”
Despite the draw of oobleck, or even ‘elephant's toothpaste’, sometimes students have so many commitments that it can be difficult to keep them coming back, but Richard says those who do are thriving. “It’s wonderful to see them so enthusiastic about all different types of science – and who knows where it might take them.”