Williams College Summer Science Lab offers 'wow' factor


WILLIAMSTOWN — A science-based "wow" factor is very much in play at the 17th Williams College Summer Science Lab at the college's Morley Scientific Laboratory.

Students from regional elementary school fifth and sixth grade classrooms worked diligently during a July 19 morning session. With goggles firmly in place, students used long slender droppers to place a variety of chemicals and substances, including cabbage juice, into glass containers of water. The objective was to change acidic substances to substances with a basic composition.

"We are trying to change the colors in the liquid," said 11-year-old Anelisse Ahoon of North Adams. "We are trying to change the colors from pink to green and from green to pink."

Pink means the liquid is acidic, green means it is basic, she explained.

Eden White, a 10-year-old Shaftsbury,Vt. elementary school student, said she was having a wonderful time experimenting and learning.

"It's really cool that we get to do things ourselves,"she said.

"We experiment and we get to see crazy results," said Mason Sayres, 10, of Lanesborough.

Williams College Professor of Biochemistry Charles "Chip" Lovett and chemistry Professor David Richardson are program founders. The excitement brought to the labs by new student groups each year is contagious, he said.

"It's great interacting with the kids," Lovett said. "It's not hard to get excited when you see how engaged they are."

Tim Hermann taught at the Mount Anthony Union Middle School in Bennington, Vt. during the 2015-16 school year. Hermann is one of the lab leaders.

"Number one, the kids get to learn that science is about doing stuff," he said. "And they learn that the world is about exploring and about doing things."

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Program director Stephen Bechtel is a sixth-grade teacher for the Hawlemont School District. The district serves students living in Charlemont and Hawley.

"I've been involved since 2000 and it's pretty much the same thing each year, with an emphasis on ph balance and the periodic table," he said. "The kids do all the hands-on while working with instructors and it's very, very engaging. Chip and Dave are great at keeping everything exciting and that gives the kids those 'wow' moments."

"The other great thing about this is that it ties in with next generation of Massachusetts science standards for the fifth and sixth grade," Hermann said.

Students participated from July 11 to July 15 during a first session. The labs each hosted 36 students. Both groups deliver Thursday evening presentations to their parents.

Madeline "Maddie" Gordon, 11, a Stamford, Vt. student, said she is enjoying her time at the experiment table.

"I like learning new things," she said.

Mujeek Amin, 10, of Williamstown, followed in his older sisters' footsteps.

"She came here and she really loved it so I wanted to try it," he said. "I love it."

"I like that you get to do things and not just watch other people talk," said Mason Schaeffer, 10, of Williamstown.

The two-week initiative is funded in part by parent-paid program tuition, a grant from the National Science Foundation, and scholarship funding from Williams College. Bechtel said that the college also covers the equipment used and the supplies and permits use of the learning space. This year's program was filled to capacity with students from 24 communities including Pittsfield, Cheshire, Adams, Erving, Hancock, Stephentown, N.Y. and North Bennington, Vt..

While most participants claimed a love of science and learning as their reason for attending, there was one youngster who admitted enrolling was not his idea.

"My mom said 'you've never done science before and it will be fun'," said Xzavier Martel-Baliakos. "And you know what? It is fun."


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