The day was filled with chemical reactions, microscopic inspections, and rocket propulsion as over 100 middle school students from Springfield, Holyoke, and other parts of the Pioneer Valley arrived on campus for the 23rd annual Day in the Lab on November 21.
Day in the Lab connects middle schoolers with Hampshire professors and students, and provides hands-on experience that organizers hope will deepen their interest in science. Gathered in groups in the Cole Science Center and across campus, whether they were learning about DNA, making slime and superballs with a mixture of chemicals, or launching a mini rocket on the lawn in front of the library, the goal was to get them immersed in projects and the problem-solving needed to make them work.
“It was different, really different, and fun, too. I want to do more experiments now,” said Niyah Boyd of Duggan Middle School in Springfield.
Amilcar Minueza of John F. Kennedy Middle School in Springfield felt similarly. He enjoyed being involved in a chemistry project led by Professor Dula Amarasiriwardena that demonstrated ways chemicals can react in different situations. But as much as the middle schoolers seemed excited by the projects, biology professor Merle Bruno noted that it was an important lesson for the college students, too.
“It gives them a deeper understanding of what they’re doing, because they have to explain things in a way these students can comprehend,” said Professor Bruno, who is retiring at the end of the school year and who was commended at the closing ceremony for her work in helping to start the Day in the Lab program. “You get immediate feedback from middle school students, you know when they’re not engaged. We’ve found the best way to engage them was to really challenge them, teach them things being taught in college, have them ask questions and answer them.”
And, these middle schoolers could, in a few years’ time, take the place of the current college students in teaching another generation about the importance, and excitement, of science.