1500 High School Students and 3 Scientists
After our relatively tame Tuesday of Primary School visits, Wednesday morning started with a very stressful scheduling snafu. We made it just in time to our third school. It was very different from our first two visits:
It was intimidating. There were over 1000 students at this school (maybe even pushing 1500).
Nevertheless, the demonstrations proceeded smoothly. This is me trying for quiet:
The demonstration that was best received was fake burning money. We soaked money in ethanol and water then lit the money on fire. The money would catch fire, but it was just the ethanol. Once the ethanol burned off, the bill remained intact. Still, money + fire = shocking…
That’s about $15 in South African Rand.
At each school, after our demonstrations we handed out various science materials provided to us by the Department of Science and Technology. This is a small part of the collection they gave us:
By the end of the week we had handed out thousands of pieces of paper. Anyone even know what Biophysics is?
At the start of Grade 10, South African students choose a “track” that has significant impact on the rest of their life. Different schools offer different tracks, but three of the most common are hard science (pure math, physics, chemistry, biology), commerce (economics, business studies, accounting), and hospitality (tourism, home economics). Choosing a track limits the kind of post-secondary education you can pursue. For example, if you want to be an accountant but you don’t take higher maths, you’ll have problems getting into a university accounting program. And if you want to be a scientist, but don’t take the hard science track, you’ll never find a university to take you.
Most students don’t really realize this, and often opt for easier tracks only to learn that their choice is now preventing them from pursuing the field they intended. And often, schools guide students into easier tracks to raise the pass rate of the school. Pass rates here are EVERYTHING.
One of the goals of National Science Week is to encourage study of the sciences. Many students are afraid of the science track because it is perceived as too difficult. So we made a point of giving special attention to Grade 9 students who would be choosing their potential life path in a few months. What’s the best way to make science look fun? Explosions! And that’s why we did matchstick rockets whenever we could:
Gratuitous Science Photo!
After our school visit, we stopped in at the Educational Development Centre to do a quick lesson with some of the students there:
And of course (are we seeing a pattern?), it was matchstick rockets: