Science Picnic 2016

Please note that the contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps. 

Last year Maia and Nana, our biology and chemistry teachers, organized a school trip to the Ilia State University Science Picnic, Georgia’s first and only outdoor science fair. Fortunately, I’d already made my interest in science known and I was invited along. The teachers wanted to inspire the students enough that our school could present next year, which is to say, this year. And we did.

 That tent right there is where we'd be. We scored the spot on the right.

That tent right there is where we'd be. We scored the spot on the right.

Back in... April? The teachers asked for my help. They knew I was putting together a science themed camp, and asked me for suggestions for experiments that they could submit as part of the application process. Four of the seven we submitted turned out to come from me. So I can take a small measure of credit in us getting invited to present.

Fast forward and we’re two weeks away from the fated day. There’s lots of scrambling and the teachers want to use as much from my camp as possible, even if it was just something that was put on display, like a pasta car. Pretty cool, but with all the flurry of activity I still had very little idea of what was going on other than we were presenting and we would start at noon.  Also, I would need to wear some T-Shirt I was given (which I found out later was a T-Shirt custom made for our school by the folks running the event, pretty cool).

I was asked to present some of the experiments as well as which student(s) I wanted to help me. I considered my host sister because she’d done some of the experiments with me at home, but she’s a bit shy and I wasn’t sure if she’d appreciate the spotlight. So instead I just leaned over to Giorgi, one of our students, and told him, “Just have them give me the cutest girl.” It got a lot of laughs, and they eventually assigned me Elene, the girl with the best English. She is also looking at studying chemistry at university and was at METS camp for one of the days, so she was familiar with one of the experiments we’d be doing and could easily grasp the concepts behind the rest once she knew the Georgian terms. A good choice for all the right reasons.

 The band

The band

The day began before many of the students liked, which is to say we were supposed to be at the school by 7… which quickly became 7:30 because getting kids to wake up that early, especially on a Saturday, can be pretty hard. With everyone there we got the marshutka loaded, and we were off.

We arrived to discover the nearby Dunkin’ Doughnuts, which we patroned last year, had closed. So, after 30 minutes of looking for a new place nearby that was actually open, we just munched some cookies and launched into set up. By time noon rolled around, we were [mostly] ready.

 The flurry and lull of set up.

The flurry and lull of set up.

Turns out we were in the VIP tent. That is where they put the winning science clubs from high schools. We were there with three others, including another school from our town, which later elicited an amusing comment from a teacher who brought her students about how our town did so much to promote science (though in more exasperated tones). Its was also cool to see some more kids that attended METS Camp.

It also turns out that the VIP tent was the first stop for Georgia’s new Minister of Education and Science, Aleksandre Jejelava. He happily posed for pictures as he investigated the experiments that each of the schools brought. It was a really nice touch, and I know that all the teachers and many of the students appreciated it. It was great to hear later on that he's extremely supportive of non-traditional learning, like clubs and camps.

 The minister learns about the health problems of smoking from Maia and Gvantsa, one of our 10th grade students, using a METS Camp inspired lung design.

The minister learns about the health problems of smoking from Maia and Gvantsa, one of our 10th grade students, using a METS Camp inspired lung design.

While the rest of the students worked on making popcorn from cans, boiling coffee, explaining mitosis, and showing off pendulums and bubbles, Elene and I presented paper recycling, air conditioning, and electric generators. Paper recycling was the biggest draw of our three since it looked so involved. Air conditioning would have done better if the weather was not so cold and windy. I feel that if we’d made the electrical generator grander, it would have gotten attention, but it was easily overlooked. One teacher also took an interest in the pasta car we had on display (made by my host sister), and I got to explain to her how we used them to teach potential and kinetic energy, friction, and aerodynamics (fortunately I’d loaded my camp’s Power Point presentations on my phone, which helped).

 The dynamic duo in action!

The dynamic duo in action!

 Elene taking the lead.

Elene taking the lead.

Although I took the lead demonstrating things for the first group of visitors, Elene quickly took over. Being regulated to hired help while she explained Georgia’s trash problem and how paper is made and recycled was great. It shows she’s ready to tackle science at university when she graduates (still a year away).

The only real hang up we had was when the school next to us, who we graciously let use one of the electrical outlets from my extension cord, thought that the water we were using for paper recycling was a place they could dump the unsafe chemicals from their experiments. Seriously, გოგო?! This led to a bit of a water shortage for us as we had to dump all that contaminated water.

 Visitors learning science.

Visitors learning science.

 Mariam explains mitosis.

Mariam explains mitosis.

We closed our tent early. I was told it was due to the weather, which I believe considering the tent was up high and had no front or back, so the wind just whipped straight through. It was also threatening rain. Unfortunately, this meant that none of the Peace Corps staff who came to check things out got to see my students in action, but I was still able to give our country director a quick lesson on rocket science.

I credit our success first to our teachers and then to our students. Our teacher's love for our students and their drive to teach them that in turn helped inspire our students and get them involved. I was really just a resource to tap for ideas and manpower.