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Penn State students mentor 'science superheroes' at Haunted-U

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04 November 2015

Credit: Penn State
Credit: Penn State
Super villains, beware! There is a new class of science superheroes in training at Penn State. More than 50 volunteer students from the Penn State Eberly College of Science spent the better part of their day on Sunday, Oct. 25, at Haunted-U, inspiring the next generation of scientists with inquiry-based, hands-on science activities.

Haunted-U is an annual science education program hosted by the College of Science Outreach office. What better time for science than Halloween!

This year's theme was “Super Villains: Calling All Science Superheroes.”

At the event, Penn State students were asked to take the lead as curriculum mentors on teaching science concepts in chemistry, physics, math, and other science fields to children, all under the superhero theme. The campers were told that anyone can become a science superhero, and anyone can change the world. There were 100 campers divided by age and separated into four different lab rooms. While more than 75 students signed up to help with the event, the labs only fit 50 volunteers, and so even the volunteer process became competitive.

The science outreach programs have become an increasingly popular venue for Penn State students to develop science teaching, communication, and leadership skills in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math). The science outreach programs have evolved as one pathway for science students to communicate their passion for STEM disciplines with broader audiences, in this case children in grades K-5, and supplement their academic work with community engagement.

Campers tested some of the science experiments that super villains tried when they were young, including: the Joker's silly string (known in chemistry as elephant's toothpaste), the Hobgoblin's science fair flub (the physics of film canisters with water and Alka-Seltzer tablets), Lex Luthor's lava lamps (oil, water and fizzing tablets, with a little kryptonite!), Dr. Freeze's dry ice homework assignment gone wrong, and many more.

The student volunteers were asked to complete a self-assessment on skill development, as well as a survey prompting them to reflect on their attitudes toward science. The Science Outreach office programs are designed, in part, to provide experiential opportunities for students that develop the ability to teach scientific concepts and lab bench skills effectively, increase awareness of careers in STEM disciplines, and increase participation in science-related activities to help build community in the college.

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