You might be surprised to find out that on many a Saturday in Columbia throughout the year, kids are getting up bright and early to take part in science-related activities.
And, it's not even required! One of these events took place in late April when some Columbia Water and Light employees in conjunction with Columbia Public Schools helped about 15 students construct solar panels.
Water and Light employees got it all started with a couple of short lectures on the basics of electricity and solar power. Then it was down to business. Working in pairs, the 5th-8th graders gathered around desk top work stations with a shoe box sized plastic container in front of them. It was filled with what they needed to construct a small solar panel.
"I think solar is a good use of materials to help our environment," said Sayde Hindlang. She's an 8th grader at Jefferson Middle School and said she likes learning about the environment. "The environment is important and it's what I live in and I have to protect it because I want to stay here and we don't want our earth to shatter or anything."
Joshua Vincent was assembling his solar panel at a work station just a few feet away from Hindlang. He's also an 8th grader at Jefferson Middle School and said, "Eventually we are going to run out of stuff like coal and whatever we use now so it would be easier to find ways now in order to get solar power so in the future when we actually do run out we have a better chance of getting more solar power."
Most of the Saturday scientists were middle schoolers. But there were also some students here from Fairview Elementary School. Addy Lockett is a 5th grader at Fairview. "Well, like we're making solar panels. Solar electricity, I mean that's pretty cool. I've seen solar panels on my grandparent's house. I just never knew I was going to be able to make a solar cell. It's crazy," she said.
Well, maybe not that crazy. Jen Szydlowski teaches science at Jefferson Middle School. She said when it comes to the environment, working outside the box is common in Columbia schools. "We go out to Rock Bridge State Park and look at the karst geography out there and look at the streams and the creek. So we talk about what formed them, how erosion and weathering occurs and then we bring in the human part of it. And now that people are living in that area and there is construction going on, how that impacts it. Also how farming impacts the quality of the water. They also do testing out there."
Szydlowski said when it comes to science education, there is book learning and memorizing but not as much as there used to be. Instead she said they are trying to help kids see the connection between what they learn and why they need to learn it. Jefferson Middle schooler Kiren MacLeod said he likes this approach. "We kind of live in a world where we've evolved from nature. So I think we should kind of study that quite a bit because there is nature all around us. And I think that is an important part of our life."
After the students constructed the solar panels they used them to power up some things. Everyone's favorite seemed to be a small metal vibrator, about the size of a grain of rice, that is just like the one in a cell phone. The students couldn't stop watching it hop along their table tops.