PacSci Perspectives

On The Road, Sharing Science

by | Mar 21, 2016

When our brightly colored Science On Wheels (SOW) vans roll up—whether along the rugged coast, amidst farmland, at city community centers or suburban schools—they immediately get noticed, says Education Outreach Lead Teacher Sam Chamberlain. “It’s always exciting to witness the wow factor.”

For 23 years, Chamberlain has been delivering hands-on science education to tens of thousands of youth in all of Washington’s 39 counties, plus Oregon and Idaho. He is part of a team of 12 educators who crisscross the Northwest in six vans: Blood and Guts, Engineering, Mathfinder, Physics On Wheels, Rock and Roll (geology) and Space Odyssey.

“Parent volunteers meet us at the crack of dawn to unload,” Chamberlain says. Then, the SOW team wows crowds with a portable planetarium, energy balls, robot arms, gyroscopes, crystals, a dollhouse that undergoes an earthquake. Come lunch, Chamberlain gets his meal in the cafeteria, surrounded by kids bubbling with curiosity and enthusiasm.

“It’s rock star status,” Chamberlain says. “The school staff, the custodians, everyone becomes your friend.” Sometimes communities share their own lessons, as in La Push, on the edge of the Pacific, where families from the Quileute Tribal School invited Chamberlain to a drum circle and to help check salmon drift nets while bald eagles swooped overhead. A professional magician, Chamberlain often performs entertaining tricks at day’s end.

Yet the real magic is when science ignites a sparkle in students’ eyes, he says, especially the “challenging” kid whose desk the teacher has shoved against the whiteboard. “You can see they’re laughing, having fun, engaged. . . ‘I want to be a scientist!’

“I delight in having the kids feel successful and showing them they can do science, they are doing science and that they’ll go through life asking questions like scientists.”

Register for Science On Wheels to come to your community.