Second-graders find electricity presentation shocking

17 years ago
    PRESQUE ISLE, Maine – Second-graders at Pine Street Elementary School were shocked May 2 to learn about electricity, a presentation that left their hair standing on end.
    Tony Sohns, natural history educator for the Maine Discovery Museum, was in Aroostook County last week conducting outreach science programs ranging from electricity to insects.
“We have school groups come to the Museum,” he said, “but we try to do outreach for some of the farther communities in Maine. We come up to northern Maine about once a year, as well as southern, eastern and western Maine.”
Sohns said though the electricity presentation is usually geared for children in grades four and higher, all children can benefit from learning the basics.
“I’m not an expert on electricity,” he said, “but we have some things that the kids really enjoy including a Vandergraph generator, which puts out 400,000 volts of electricity and you can make a spark about 15 inches long. It’s basically a little lightning machine.
“We can stand kids’ hair on end and shock each other,” said Sohns. “It’s fun, and my number-one goal is to get kids laughing and having fun with science regardless of what we talk about.”
Other “props” Sohns had with him were balloons, a dead electric eel, and sand that was melted after being struck by lightning.
“We talk about Benjamin Franklin, how the Greeks were the first to discover electricity, myths about shooting lightning out of your fingers and much more,” he said. “We try to show science not only as something you learn in school, but something that you are going to use and see everywhere.”
During his presentation, Sohns told the second-graders how electricity is generated, and that there are negative results to the daily necessity.
“For example, if you have a windmill, like they have in Mars Hill, that can be harmful to birds if they fly into the turbines,” he said. “Some electricity is created by turbines in the water, and that can hurt the fish … it chops them up into tuna.
“Every day, you’re either putting smoke up into the air, you’re grinding up fish or birds, or you’re having poisonous (radioactive) chemicals around you,” said Sohns. “We have to be more careful with how we use our power. When you go out of a room, shut off the lights. When you’re not watching TV, turn it off. When you’re not using the oven, make sure it’s off. Everything has a cost and the power bill is not free.”
Second-grade teachers Carolyn Phelps and Karen Shaw said the presentation helped bring a somewhat complicated concept to life for the children.
“We use electricity every day, but never see it, and seldom think about it,” the teachers said. “Tony’s presentation helped children see with their own eyes how we get electricity and what it can do. The hands-on demonstrations made the children understand electricity much better.
“The presentation tied into our unit on weather by showing how lightning is formed,” said Phelps and Shaw. “It tied into our health/safety curriculum by emphasizing how to be safe when using electricity.”
The children enjoyed the presentation immensely and learned a lot from it.
“I learned that some ways of making electricity can hurt animals and the environment,” said Elise Guerrette and Ethan Clark.
“I learned fish get stuck on the wheel when they try to go up the river,” said Faith Morrow.
Grant Bridges said he liked touching the amber, and learned that “the old name for electricity is amber.”
In addition to Pine Street Elementary School, Sohns’ recent visit included stops in Mapleton, Eagle Lake, Fort Kent and St. Francis.
“It’s fun,” he said. “It doesn’t get monotonous because we’re visiting different places and you never know where you’re going to be.”
Sohns’ visit was paid for by the final round of MBNA funding.