For Summer 2015, I’ll be teaching a handful of science and technology camps for kids going into grades 3 thru 7. While I enjoy this age group, I was also asked to consider offering a camp for 1st and 2nd graders. After much deliberation, I came up with a Young Inventor’s Camp — we will be making some interesting things, but I’m also tossing in some hands-on experiments that will offer up some science and math discussions. I’m hoping the kids will enjoy it, and I’ve already begun collecting ideas and lists of supplies.
While I’ve got plenty of ideas for the various gizmos and gadgets we’ll be making, I’m now on the prowl for experiments, especially those that can be done safely for this particular age group. Fortunately, a copy of Carmelo Piazzo’s new book, Crazy for Science With Carmelo the Science Fellow, just landed on my doorstep… and I now have all the experiments I’ll need for the week. Plus some!
If you’re not familiar with Carmelo, you’re in for a nice surprise — Carmelo has been posting a number of videos on YouTube for some time now, and they’re just amazing to watch. Carmelo is a teacher, and his excitement really comes through in the videos as he explains an experiment and frequently discusses a tangential subject or some scientific method that kids should explore. Don’t take my word for it, however — here is one of my favorite with Carmelo showing how to create Silly Putty:
It’s not hard to see why Carmelo is so popular with students — his narration, his humor, and his patience all come through in the videos.
And now… Carmelo has a book! Co-written with James Buckley, Jr. (and illustrated by
Chad Geran) this full-color 96 page book contains 36 different experiments (two pages per experiment, typically) along with lots of sidebar discussions related to science methods, safety, definitions, and more. Each project provides a detailed list of the components you’ll need, and you’re going to be surprised at how short these lists typically are. Even better, you’ll find that many of the items used will be things you’ll have in your home or can be obtained inexpensively from a grocery store or hardware store. Steps are numbered and the descriptive text is separated from the rest of the project’s discussions in colored boxes that make it easy to identify the proper order for an experiment.
Carmelo present a very positive take on engineers and scientists, and his energy is contagious as you read the book. As I stated earlier, I’m offering a Young Inventor’s Camp this summer and I’ve already identified over a dozen experiments that we will be doing in addition to our special gizmo/gadget projects. I just cannot believe my good luck in finding this book. And now I’m able to pass along the info to geek dads everywhere. I’m so pleased with the book that I’m declaring Carmelo, James, and Chad all honorary Geek Dads for this amazing resource they’ve created for geek dads (and geek kids) everywhere.
If you’d like to get a little more info about Carmelo, he was also kind enough to answer some of my questions about his background and Crazy for Science With Carmelo the Science Fellow, and I’m appended this Q&A below.
Note: I’d like to thank Leah for providing a copy of the book and for connecting me to Carmelo.
James Floyd Kelly: What is your background? You’re a teacher and you opened the Brooklyn Preschool of Science, but what are your beginnings? Was science always a subject you enjoyed and considered as a possible career?
Carmelo: I graduated from Brooklyn College in 1997 with a degree in Elementary Education. I went on an interview for a 4thgrade position at PS 261 in Brooklyn and did not get the job due to lack of experience. However, a month later the position became available and the school offered it to me. I was frightened to say yes because my experience of science in New York City schools was always one of boredom. I never found reading a textbook fun. But I decided to go for it and I was able to convince them that I could do the job.
I had taken a science methodology class a year prior and remembered my professor stressing how important hands-on science is with kids. I created a curriculum that focused on thematic units of study, and followed a hands-on inquiry based model. I immediately fell in love with how powerful science education can be. The integration of hands-on activities motivated my students tremendously. This inspired me to go to graduate school and get my Master’s degree in Environmental Science Education. Since then, I have opened the Cosmic Cove science center and now my school. I didn’t expect this career path, but it found me.
James Floyd Kelly: Tell me a little more about the Brooklyn Preschool of Science — it sounds amazing. What are the organization’s goals? Are the experiments in the book typical of what students there might be learning?
Carmelo: I am a big believer in thematic units of study and scaffolding concepts. What the kids do on Monday has a connection to what they do on Tuesday and Friday. What they do on October 1st has a connection to October 31st. These monthly themes guide different lessons. For example, October’s theme, “Autumn Science,” includes a visit to a local farm to pick out pumpkins—a common trip for many preschools. The twist here is what the students do with the pumpkins once they get back to the classroom. First, they dissect them and, in the process, learn vocabulary words like pulp, seeds, vine and skin. When that’s done, they cut up the leftovers and add paint to make pumpkin prints. Finally, the rest of the fruit is put into a blender to create a puree, with the kids adding flour, salt and oil through careful measuring to make their own play dough. These projects manage to integrate art, fine motor skills and math—and connect it all to science—while still being fun for students.
By utilizing these thematic units of study, children get an amazing educational preschool experience. They still get to be children and play. However, the play is all done with an integrated scientific approach. The kids start to look at every subject matter through a scientific lens.
Here’s another way we incorporate math, literacy, fine motor, gross motor, and more into one lesson: In the book, there is a mealworm activity. We work with mealworms in our program and teach the children about biodiversity. We give them unifix cubes and have them measure the length of their critter. We hand out construction paper strips and pipe cleaners and have the kid’s construct a headband antenna. This teaches the children the function of the antenna, and at the same time allows kids to pretend play as if they are bugs. This is the beauty of a science-based curriculum.
James Floyd Kelly: Out of the book’s 36 experiments, do you have a favorite? What would you say is the most popular with kids (and why)?
Carmelo: My favorite experiment in the book is by far the “Yes. It was Me!” experiment dealing with farts and burps. There is such a negative stigma on gas or flatulence. If someone farts people giggle or simply yell ‘gross!’ However, the process of passing gas is an important bodily function and this experiment shows why. It is taking something that children find so funny and using their humor to teach an amazing scientific concept of pressure. Humor + teaching = learning!
The most popular kid experiment in the book is “Pop Goes the Brain.” There is something about giving kids a challenge, have them design a solution, and then have them test their idea to see the outcome. This experiment motivates kids to want to create a skull around their water balloon. Can you imagine being a kid and throwing a water balloon against your classroom wall? It’s crazy, but it is fun. Kids love to invent things, and if their invention was unsuccessful they get to do it again. This is why this is their favorite experiment. They get to do it over and over and over again.
James Floyd Kelly: What are your criteria for acceptable versus non-acceptable experiments for students? How do you personally evaluate an experiment or project and determine whether it’s both safe AND relevant for a classroom demonstration?
Carmelo: I start all experimental research by first determining my thematic unit of study. I then think about what concepts connect to that area. For instance, we are in the middle of a pirate class and I try to find concepts that connect to the science of pirates. I can teach concepts like density, buoyancy, forces and motion, wind pressure, and so much more. Once I determine the concepts that connect to my unit of study, I research hands-on experiments that help reinforce the teaching of that concept. In my research, I make sure that the activities are age-appropriate and safe. Once of the things were doing now is building cannons. The kids love it, and they learn a ton from it.
James Floyd Kelly: Where do you go from here? You’ve got the book and your YouTube Channel, but what else is Carmelo the Science Fellow working on or considering for furthering the cause of science in the classroom?
Carmelo: My goal is to motivate children in science, and I hope to find other mediums in which I can do so. I would love to continue the expansion of my science-based preschools, as this is a direct way of creating future scientists. However, there are other ways to reach children on a much broader level. I am currently in the process of designing an innovative internet science series for kids. I hope to use the web to take my mission from the tens of thousands of kids I have reached, to eventually inspiring millions. Yes, I would love to make America realize how important and special science truly is.