by Cori Hilsgen
All Saints Academy first-graders Ethan Brown, Sylvie Bechtold, Austin Baird and others couldn’t wait for their turn to try out the dynamometer and thermometer connected to the graphing screen Feb. 25 in the St. Cloud State University Science Express bus.
Before Brown got his chance to try, he questioned whether another student was going to get a shock from the dynamometer.
The lesson about measuring was taught by SCSU biological sciences professor Bruce Jacobson, who heads the mobile science lab. He helped the students understand how graphing could tell stories about their strength, measured by the dynamometer, and how cold the snow was, measured by the thermometer.
Jacobson, assisted by SCSU graduate student Sam Hansen, showed students how to measure their right-hand strength, left-hand strength and combined-hand strength.
ASA teacher Joanne Schneider said the Science Express is one of many favorite activities for her first-grade class. She talked about the students’ week-long experiences.
“The class had the amazing opportunity to experience Science Express in kindergarten as well,” Schneider said. “Tuesday morning, they saw the truck outside as they arrived for the day. They entered our classroom buzzing about it.”
Schneider said the students remembered the experiences they had in kindergarten and were excited for the new experiences to come as first-graders. She said the Science Express brings high-tech equipment not normally available to elementary schools.
Schneider said all ASA classes got to visit the Science Express three or four times.
“This week my class used dissecting microscopes, vortex mixers and a centrifuge,” Schneider said.
Students Anthony Brown and Lily Schmitz commented on their experiences.
“It’s very scientific for me,” Brown said.
“It was awesome to look at my vest under a microscope,” Schmitz said. “It was like glowing. You can see colors and stuff.”
Jacobson said this is his fifth year of traveling with the Science Express. The bus travels to about 30 schools each year and reaches more than 15,000 students.
Jacobson has been with Science Express since its beginning. He spends about one-third of his time teaching and the other two-thirds talking and listening to everyone such as politicians, CEOs, people at church or the grocery store and other places. He said the goals in the beginning were to understand SCSU’s mission as a regional comprehensive university and committed partner with central Minnesota, assess and identify the strengths and challenges of our region, and to invest in and address challenges and prepare for the future. Three areas that were identified included partnership in science, technology, engineering, arts and math education, expanded undergraduate research opportunities, and collaboration with regional businesses.
“The role we defined was one of servant leadership and the Science Express is one of the manifestations of that commitment,” Jacobson said.
The Express originally focused on middle- and high-school students, but it now focuses on elementary students. Jacobson said the express gets the younger children inspired about science.
“Over the last two years, we have shifted the focus of the (bus) trailer to elementary schools and implemented two lending programs – one based on the Science Express activities and the other directed toward technology education, the Technology and Engineering Express,” Jacobson said.
The lending program shares equipment between middle schools and high schools and is expected to serve more than 5,000 students this year.
“In addition to inspiring students, the Science Express and associated lending programs represent a deliberate and proactive effort to strengthen the relationship between SCSU and preK- through 12th-grade educators and administrators in our region,” Jacobson said. “The challenges of education and the demands placed on teachers and schools are constantly growing while funding seems leaner every year. Our goal is to work alongside the teachers in our schools, understand their challenges and brainstorm together to find solutions.”
Initial funding for the Express was obtained from a $200,000 MnSCU grant. Medtronic donated the trailer and Innovative Laboratory Systems donated the laboratory furniture. Funding also came from the Morgan Foundation. The Express is also supported by SCSU and the SCSU Foundation.