‘Toy-A-Palooza’: STEM Academy event educational and fun for all

Noah Bino raised his fists in the air as the marble rolled down the gray foam rubber tube.

“Yay,” the 4-year-old boy shouted as his brother, Nathaniel, watched. The marble picked up speed as it came down the tube, until it stopped in a paper cup at the bottom of the tube.

The exhibit, titled “Don’t Lose Your Marbles,” was one of many on display at the Lawrence High School STEM Academy’s “Toy-A-Palooza” last weekend. It was held in the Lawrence High School Commons.

Lawrence High School students Adam Kosiba and Aluen Tomat-Kelly compared the tube and marble exhibit to a roller coaster ride. They said it demonstrated some basic physics concepts – kinetic energy, potential energy and inertia.

Kinetic energy describes the marble’s descent down the chute and into the cup. The higher the chute, the more speed or velocity it picks up. A roller coaster works the same way. The roller coaster cars gain speed as they descend down the track.

A couple of tables over, some children played with a wooden train set at the “Magnets – Invisible Forces” exhibit. There was a small magnet on each end of the railroad cars – a south magnet and a north magnet.

Lawrence High School student Neil Chopra explained that “north” and “south” magnets are attracted to each other, while two “north” magnets or two “south” magnets would repel each other if they were too close.

And at yet another table, children could see the inside of a golf ball, a baseball and assorted toys that had been taken apart so their “innards” would show. Baseballs bounce, but golf balls do not – and the reason is that a golf ball is solid and a baseball is not.

But perhaps the most intriguing exhibit was the one that invited children to take apart a computer and other electronic devices. Several children put on plastic goggles and banged away at the computer, whose cover had been removed.

“You can take it apart the right way or the wrong way. They are learning how it works,” said Maurice Crosby Sr., as he watched his two children – Maurice Jr. and Janel – pounding away at the computer.

And that is exactly what Lawrence High School science teachers Gwenn Andahazy and Kathy Buck sought to achieve – to pique children’s curiosity about the world around them and how things work.

At the same time, “Toy-A-Palooza” offered the high school students a chance to share what they had learned in their STEM Academy classes, said Andahazy and Buck, who are the co-advisers to the Science Technology Engineering and Math Academy.

“It helps my students to teach the concepts they have learned. They are having as much fun as the younger children,” said Buck, who teaches biology and environmental science.

The event also offered high school students an opportunity to inspire the younger generation to become scientists, engineers or computer programmers, said Andahazy, who teaches chemistry and environmental science.

Using the toys as props, the older students can explain the science behind the toys, Andahazy said. They can share what they have learned in school in a way that makes sense to the younger children.

“A young child can look at a toy and say, ‘I know how that works.’ That’s very powerful,” she said.

Buck agreed, adding that all children have toys and they are curious about how they work. Parents buy toys for their children, but they do not want them to take the toys apart. But at “Toy-A-Palooza,” they could do just that.

“I find that if you catch them early, they are hooked for life. If you can get children to ask questions at an early age, they won’t stop. They need to be encouraged to ask ‘why,'” Buck said.

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