Holding a long black PVC pipe, Weber State University physics major Miles Clemens strummed it dramatically as if he were Jimmy Hendricks.
“Holy cow! It makes weird noises!” yelled one of the children watching Clemens. “Let me try!”
Clemens is one of nearly 50 individuals who volunteer at WSU’s summer program, Science in the Park. Now in its seventh consecutive year, Science in the Park is a free, weeklong program that travels to a different park in Ogden each week for six weeks.
“Each day has a different theme. Then the next week it starts over,” said Adam Johnston, physics professor and the founder of Science in the Park. “It is always tied to the idea that science is fun, it’s playful, (and) it’s hands-on.”
“Hands-on” was exactly what happened when WSU elementary education majors Stacey Nance and Denise Clawson were surrounded by a small sea of children, rubber bands and toilet paper rolls.
“We’re making kazoos!” Clawson said.
As if to prove a point, a tiny boy stood up and blew his new kazoo into Nance’s face before running away. Clawson and Nance both just laughed.
“I just like the whole discovery process,” Nance said. “I love watching their faces when it finally works and they say, ‘Oh! I got it!’”
The kazoo-blower ran to where other children and even some adults were creating alien spaceship sounds by swinging 8-foot tubes over their heads.
“I call them whirly tubes,” Johnston said. “Spinning forces air through (them), and if they spin it faster at different speeds, they play different harmonic notes.”
Whirly tubes aren’t the only thing Johnston has invented. In 2006, WSU’s planetarium director challenged Johnston to create a science outreach program. Johnston knew many families were already in the parks during the summer, and he saw an opportunity.
“These are neighborhood kids at the park,” Johnston said. “They’re close to their school. It’s outside. There’s the playground. It was just normal kinds of things. We wanted to be part of that playing that kids do.”
Johnston said the goal of the program is to make science accessible to everyone.
“We want to make it clear that it is open to them and something that is part of their everyday life,” he said. “The (program) gives them the opportunity to do things you’re not supposed to do inside your house or even in the classroom.”
For physics major Mike Warby, teaching outside the classroom is what matters.
“This is a lot more fun than giving tests,” she said. “It’s not uncommon to have kids running around saying, ‘Science is cool!’”
Johnston has expanded on the program this summer. For the day themed “See It!”, he plans to have a giant pinhole projection room.
“It’s just black plastic and some lumber,” he said. “But it will really be cool for the kids.”
Other additions this year include handmade origami kites and circuit boards.
“They’re really just simple things,” Johnston said. “But kids start asking questions because they see that they are kind of simple, and then they get excited because they understand how it works.”
Johnston said that what the program does is no different from what scientists do.
“We play around. We’re just playing with stuff and figuring out how stuff works,” he said. “It’s important that kids see and experience this type of hands-on learning.”
The Science in the Park program runs through the week of July 15 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. daily at various parks throughout Ogden. Locations, volunteer opportunities and additional information are available at http://community.weber.edu/ottreach/parks.html.