“Science is the key to our future, and if you don’t believe in science, then you’re holding everybody back.” – Bill Nye
One day last fall, while I was scrolling through job search websites, saying no, no, no, pass, nope, no, definitely NO, nah, no…something caught my eye. I believe the job post started with something like, “Do you like science? Do you want to get paid for having fun? Do you want to spark the imagination and curiosity of children and teach them about the fun in science?”
WHAAAAT??? Fun, kids, science? Are you kidding me?? I didn’t even stop to think about it, I just started filling out the application, attached my resume, and hit SEND. And after months of spitballing resumes and applications at jobs I knew I didn’t really want and in all likelihood didn’t want me, it finally seemed like this might be a match! Something positive to do with my time, instead of moping, doing laundry, staring at my computer, avoiding housework and eating all my feelings…which I may or may not have been doing since the school year started.
And so, I landed a job teaching afterschool programs with Mad Science of Western New England. This office is a franchise of the Mad Science corporation, based in Canada. Mad Science has it’s roots with two science-loving brothers from Montreal, who started by doing experiments in their neighborhood as kids in the mid-1980’s. From there, they expanded to weekend science demonstrations, birthday parties and special events, eventually forming an international franchise program that offers interactive “edu-tainment”, in the form of after-school programs, science-themed birthday parties, stage shows, workshops, and summer camps. Currently, there more than 160 Mad Science locations in over 20 countries world wide.
Mad Science of Western New England was established as one of the first U.S. Mad Science franchises, circa 1998, and has been headed up by Michael Budnick, aka, “Professor Micron” (almost every employee of Mad Science has their own “Professor” name) since 2011. Michael, who came to Mad Science after careers in both education and the corporate world, is one of those people with a Very Big Brain, who brings his enthusiasm for science and his business savvy to the franchise, and his penchant for bad puns to every office meeting. There are a number of office staff that support the Mad Science program, including Sara (aka “Professor Alchemy”) and Leah (aka “Professor Obi-Wan”), who coordinate after school programs and events. I had the opportunity to talk with Sara and Leah about their experiences with Mad Science recently. Leah, who has been with Mad Science since 2013, saw a job posting like I did, and had a similar eureka! moment. She started with after school programs and other events, and then became the Events Program Coordinator. She still teaches classes, and when I asked her for a moment that stood out to her, she mentioned one instance where a boy told her that his friends call him weird, because he likes science. She told him, I’m weird too and proud, because science is cool! I watched Leah interact with my own weird, science loving kid, and I can attest to the fact that in the span of a 20 minute conversation about Harry Potter, my daughter had a new hero. I’m beyond grateful that she’s got in Leah a super smart, strong adult woman in her arsenal of role models. Sara’s experience with Mad Science has generally been in the office, but her background working in a non-profit organization lent itself to her job functions, which include the organization, planning and coordination of programs, serving as the liaison between the schools and the Mad Scientists, and, implicitly, matching Mad Scientists to events, based on interest, personality, and previous feedback. And honestly, she’s kind of like the den mother to a pack of nerds—keeps things organized, keeps everyone focused, gives criticism and guidance when it’s needed, and indulges and protects everyone.
So, after going through training and in-class observation of another after school program, as well as establishing my own Mad Science alias (“Professor Narwhal”), I was set up with my own programs to instruct. I will admit, before my first class, I was puzzled and stressed…how to best make science fun for 5-8 year olds? Let me tell you, Mad Science has it down to…well, you know…a SCIENCE! All of the lessons are fast moving, easy to conduct, and super fun! This season’s session is Chem Works, which can be challenging conceptually; chemical reactions, polymers, atoms, elements and molecules aren’t things that the grammar school set are necessarily familiar with. But the program makes the seemingly banal exciting and fun, by using words and real-life examples that these kids are familiar with, and expanding on their knowledge. With Mad Science, learning the difference between an Erlenmeyer flask and a graduated cylinder, or how acids and bases function, or what oxygen, water, salt and an acid can do to a penny is interactive and cool! And when you let the kids experiment with how you can suspend a mixture upside down inside a flask, blowing up balloons by combining household materials, combining two liquids to make a green worm-like solid…that’s when science becomes magic. And when they get play with fart putty while they learn about the science of flatulence (e.g., did you know that a fart has been clocked at a speed of 10 feet per second?), it’s not only the kind of potty humor that they enjoy, you can see that they’re learning!
Now my first season with Mad Science is coming to an end, I am delighted to say that I have had the opportunity to interact with some really great, curious, enthusiastic and smart kids. And I’ve learned so much myself! Classroom management is definitely a thing, yes, as is being prepared. Name tags are infinitely helpful, as are parent volunteers. And I totally learned or re-learned some scientific principles, and mostly had a tremendous amount of fun making messes with kids and science!
As the school year comes to a close, Mad Science of Western New England is getting ramped up for summer camps to be held throughout New England. These summer camps are basically a whole season of lessons packed into one week, which sounds crazy, but crazy FUN!
If you’re interested in learning more about the Mad Science organization, go to: http://http://www.madscience.org/
And if you live in Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, or Massachusetts, and would like to see where Mad Science camps are being held in this area for the summer, go to: http://http://westnewengland.madscience.org/campexperience.aspx