‘Super Science Olympics’

Seaborg Center hosts winter College for Kids

Emily Langlois, left, one of the teachers in the "Super Science Olympics," shows home-schooler Kira Kooy how moving a brush on ice is similar to sweeping during a curling game. The activity was part of several programs that took place at Saturday’s winter College for Kids at the Seaborg Center. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

MARQUETTE — If you learn how sweepers are used in the sport of curling, you might respect that sport a lot more.

You also might think more highly of a Zamboni driver if you know how the machine works.

It all comes down to basic science.

Curling — and other Olympics sports in the news this week with the start of the Pyeongchang Winter Games — was a topic of discussion, as was scientific activity — during Saturday’s “Super Science Olympics.” The program was one of several offered at the winter College for Kids at Northern Michigan University’s Seaborg Center.

Renee Jewett, program coordinator at the Seaborg Center, explained how Super Science Olympics was taught.

“They’re kind of looking at the science beyond our Winter Olympics, which is cool because it’s happening right now,” Jewett said.

The other programs were “Tracks and Trails,” which explored local animals and the tracks they leave, and “Wild Winter,” which focused on how animals stay warm in the winter and where birds go during the season.

“We just really believe in ‘hands on-minds on,’ and that learning doesn’t end in the traditional classroom, so to continue beyond the Monday- through-Friday school week is a good thing,” Jewett said.

Kids aren’t the only ones who learn during College for Kids.

Jewett said it also provides good experience for NMU pre-service teachers to work with students before they inevitably teach in their own classrooms.

“It’s part of their class as well,” Jewett said. “It’s their first experience with kids. So, they do some team teaching and they create the lessons. They create the titles. They do all the work.”

The parents like College for Kids too because it involves a mix of schools, with kids meeting kids from other schools, she said.

NMU senior Emily Langlois, an elementary education major, helped teach the Super Science Olympics segment.

Saturday marked the first time she taught such a class, although she acknowledged having worked previously around the Seaborg Center laboratories.

“Definitely it will help my career, mainly because it forces us to be the teacher for three straight hours and to design everything ourselves,” Langlois said. “We were kind of given a general direction where to go, and we did our thing and made it fun.”

Rachel Burkart, an NMU senior majoring in elementary education and social studies, assisted Langlois in the class, saying it will help her in several ways: “Learning a little bit more behind the science and having fun with some kids.”

Beakers, a geology display and scientific posters filled the room in which Super Science Olympics took place, but the program focused more on a hockey puck, a sled and ice, with videos from actual Winter Olympics sports played.

However, the students first told each other about the upcoming Winter Olympics sports they wanted to watch and what sports they wanted to learn more about.

They then turned their attention to a miniature tabletop ice rink to initially learn about hockey, a popular Upper Peninsula sport.

“Living in the U.P., you’ve probably all seen hockey, right?” Langlois asked.

However, what might not have been as familiar to them is how the ice is kept smooth between periods.

That’s when a Zamboni comes in handy on an ice rink.

“Basically what a Zamboni does is it comes through and it dumps a bunch of hot water on there,” Langlois said.

She then told the students to think of a windshield wiper and how it removes the water from the windshield. Similarly, a Zamboni moves over the ice and scrapes it as the water is being put down simultaneously.

Langlois also had the youngsters dwell on a hockey puck itself — most likely something that doesn’t enter their daily thinking.

“Let’s look how a puck is made,” Langlois said. “It’s very smooth, if you feel it.”

If the part of the puck that slides on the ice were bumpy, though, would that make a difference? The youngsters ruminated on that possibility.

Overwhelmingly they agreed the puck wouldn’t slide across the ice as quickly.

The lesson later moved on to a curling demonstration using a puck and small brushes.

In the Olympics, curling uses a large stone that’s pushed across ice toward a target, much like shuffleboard, with sweepers brushing on the ice in front of the stone as it moves toward the target.

“When you think curling you have to think friction,” Langlois said.

Unlike a hockey puck, curlers don’t want the stone to move across the ice quickly all the time, she said. A curler wants to get the stone as close to the target as possible, but a teammate has the responsibility to make sure the stone doesn’t go out of the target.

That could be challenging.

“The ice doesn’t have a lot of friction,” Langlois said.

A few props were needed for Saturday’s tabletop curling activity, which prompted home-schooler Kira Kooy to ask: “What are these for?”

She was referring to small brushes at the miniature ice rink.

To demonstrate the concept concept of friction, Langlois rubbed the rink ice with a brush, which immediately created bumps.

The theory was that the bumps would create friction on the ice and, as a result, slow down the puck.

The trick was to strategically rub the right spots on the ice.

“We should do it here so it has to stop,” Langlois said, mentioning one area of the rink.

The students achieved some success on the makeshift rink.

“We would have just won the gold in curling, if I say so myself,” Burkart said.

Curling wasn’t the only sport discussed during the College for Kids Olympics program.

For instance, the youngsters watched a video showing four-man bobsled competition, and then discussed whether a heavier sled would travel faster than a lighter sled.

They also went outside to use a real sled to make this discovery, which, as it turned out, went in favor of the heavier — and faster — sled. Inside, they made tiny sleds using materials like toilet paper rolls, straws and foil.

The winter College for Kids continues March 24 for students in kindergarten through sixth grade. The scheduled programs are: “Under the Sea,” which will explore animals living in the ocean and how to keep them safe; “I Dig It,” the purpose of which is to let students play archaeologist and discover treasures; and “Hit the Target, Catapult Style,” which will enable students to build their own catapults — useful for medieval knights and pirates — and use them to hit targets.

The cost for each session is $8. Pre-registration is required and can be accessed online at www.nmu.edu/seaborg/student-programs or by calling 906-227-2002.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.