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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 28, 2002

Science show travels the schools

By Scott Ishikawa
Advertiser Central O'ahu Writer

One of the more amusing things of the Future Flight Hawai'i's Family Science Nights is watching both parents and children act like kids while playing with the exhibits.

With a compound-eye simulator, second-grader Taylor Babbitt, 7, plays catch at the Mililani Mauka Elementary science night.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

"I wish we had things like this while I was in school," said parent Susan Gavin, watching her third-grade son, Elliott Freeman, dye a rainbow-colored T-shirt while learning about chromatography. "I'm probably having as much fun as he is."

And that is the whole purpose of the science program now touring O'ahu schools, according to program director Art Kimura: trying to help parents regain that childhood curiosity so they might encourage their children to become budding scientists.

"I think as we get older, all we want our children to get is the right answer, instead of explaining sometimes how we get to that answer," said Kimura about the event, which uses 35 hands-on exhibits to explain such things as the theories of center of gravity, sound, Newton's Law of Motion. "We also wanted to make science more of a family event, rather than the kids coming home from school to talk about it."

The tour, led by Kimura and his wife, Rene, stopped at Mililani Mauka Elementary School on Monday. The evening school tour is an extension of the organization's summer space camps held at the University of Hawai'i at Hilo and at Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park.

The program, established in 1991 by the state Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism, stresses the need for science education and literacy. The program is now managed and sponsored by the Hawai'i Space Grant College, UH-Manoa.

Upcoming Family Science Nights

The Family Science Night program continues in March at the following schools. Interested families should contact their respective schools for more information:

• Wednesday — Kapolei Elementary School

• Next Thursday — Moanalua Elementary School

• March 13 — Mililani Uka Elementary School

• March 14 — Waikele Elementary School

For more information about Future Flight Hawai'i's student and family science programs in June and July on Kaua'i and the Big Island, call 956-3138 or 934-7261, or check the organization's Web site.

Kimura, a retired public school science teacher, said the school science program also shows that teaching science doesn't require $100 chemistry sets or other expensive equipment to interest young children.

On this night, students learning about the density of certain materials created a mini-lava lamp using a test tube, oil and water and a dyed Alka Seltzer tablet. Another simple experiment using water and an eyedropper to explain the bonding of molecules of water had students guessing how many drops of water could be placed on the face of a penny (one person managed to place 20 drops on one coin).

Kimura said Future Flight Hawai'i will eventually put the experiments on its Web site so teachers can download the instructions.

Iris Kuwabara, a Mililani optometrist, remembers becoming attracted to the science field as a child by attending school fairs.

"It keeps the children's attention because it makes learning fun, which is important," Kuwabara said.

The evening program reaches a total of 2,000 parents and children each year. In addition to the evening shows, the Kimuras give additional school presentations on "How to Use the Bathroom in Space" — the title is based on one of the more common questions asked by students — to 5,000 more kids annually.

In the evening events, after giving families an hour to test all the gadgets, it's not unusual at the end of the program for Kimura to have to beg family members to return to their seats to conclude the event.

"That," a smiling Kimura said, "is probably our biggest challenge."

Reach Scott Ishikawa at sishikawa@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2429.