By Melissa Ford
Longfellow 2nd and 3rd graders stood riveted as Scientist Sally from Oak Park Education Foundation's Science Alliance program described how the Earth was formed. “4.5 billion years, during a time called the Heavy Bombardment, when the Sun and Earth were just being made, small hunks of rock and bigger hunks of rock and huge hunks smashed together, getting super hot, until finally the Earth was formed.”
She paused, posing a question to her rapt audience, “What happens when your parents put a pot filled with water on the stove?” One little girl, quick to answer, replied, “It boils and then there’s steam!”
“Right!” enthused Scientist Sally. “That’s what happened to all the water on the Earth when the Earth was first made; it boiled away. The Earth was molten rock and when the rocks cooled off, it was super, super dry. Does anyone know where our water came from?”
No one had an answer, yet the anticipation heightened as Scientist Sally continued.
“Our water came from comets and astroids in space that hit the Earth and Moon! That means that the water in the lemonade you drink, the ice rinks you skate on, the pools, rivers, lakes, and oceans you swim in, and the water in our bodies all originally came from comets or asteroids.” The kids jumped up and down with enthusiasm!
“But it gets even better,” Scientist Sally pressed on. “Since water came from comets that means all of us, literally come from outer space or at least the water in our bodies does. So, in some sense, we are aliens; comets are our ancestors!” The kids, waving their arms, roared with excitement, “We’re aliens!”
“So why are comets important?” she continued. One child shouted, “We would not be alive!” “That’s right,” she confirmed. “Sometimes astronomers call our ancestors, dirty snowballs!” The kids giggled. “How many of you would like to make a comet?” she inquired (as if she had to ask the question).
Hands shot up with kids gleefully screaming, “I do!”
Throughout the morning, Longfellow scientists along with energetic parent-lab assistants created dirty snowballs by mixing water, dirt, frozen carbon dioxide (dry ice), ammonia, and organic matter (or carbon in the form of corn syrup). Much of the excitement was generated by the dry ice creating a theatrical foggy smoke spilling over the mixing bowls filled with comet ingredients. Many scientists were successful in creating the perfect comet while others met with less success. Not to be daunted, these young scientists utilized their comet ingredients to run other experiments that popped into their creative minds.
At the end of the morning, I queried these brilliant Longfellow scientists, seeking insightful discoveries they had gleaned from their experiments. Here are some of their findings:
- Kids can make comets.
- Dry ice makes steam.
- Comets are our ancestors.
- I like to hammer dry ice.
- The steam from dry ice makes breathing hard.
- All three elements - liquid, gas, solid - were in our bowls at one time.
- Water comes from comets.
- Scientist Sally is awesome!
- We are part alien because we come from comets.
And my take-away? I would have enjoyed science a lot more as a kid if Scientist Sally had been my teacher. Enthusiasm, passion, pleasure, and total engagement with these students made this morning a scientific success! I’m grateful to the Oak Park Education Foundation for providing creative, curriculum-enhancing programs for District 97 students.
If you’d like to know more about Oak Park Education Foundation please visit: www.opef.org