In which I leave the house

We just got back from Doing a Thing, the annual Science Alive! event at the main branch of the St. Joseph County Public Library in downtown South Bend. This is the third year my wife has taken my son; I didn’t go the last two years because I was working every Saturday. It’s an interesting event; they basically take over the library with tons of booths and exhibits (too many, honestly; there’s stuff everywhere you turn, and tons of people, and I was stressed out from trying to keep from bumping into people or knocking little kids over) and most of them are hands-on in some way or another, which is pretty cool.

The ground floor was basically a mini-4H fair, with a lot of vaguely bemused-looking farm kids letting the terrified city folk do stuff like pet chickens, with the occasional pig or snake thrown in for good measure.

The upper floors were more … science-fair-ish, I guess? Not in the sense of people showing off experiments, but more like lots of table staffed by local college kids demonstrating some aspect of SCIENCE! to the kids. The weird thing was a lot of the time the science they were wanting to talk about was miles beyond the comprehension level of the small kids (my son is 7, and he was about average for the crowd, and there were a lot of kids way younger) who were there. I spent a couple of minutes watching some poor woman who is probably an excellent teacher when she’s surrounded by college students who want doctorates gamely struggling to relate square dancing and mathematics and fractions to each other … somehow? She literally had a whiteboard covered with equations next to her and I had to keep myself from bursting out laughing when she, entirely seriously, asked the group of elementary-age kids in front of her who wanted to square dance what the negative reciprocal of 1/2 was.

I would wager that, if you threw out the actual scientists, no more than 10% of the adults in the building could tell you what a negative reciprocal is. I mean, it’s not a difficult concept, but it’s not one of those things that most folk need to worry about, y’know? Then there was an entire room full of particle physics folks and one lonely astronomer. And, like, okay, radiation’s cool, and particle accelerators are cool, and whatever the spinny ball-balancy thing that my son was so enthralled with was neat, but I found myself wondering if anybody at all was thinking about age-appropriateness when they put this all together. Waving a hand-made Giger counter at a piece of Fiestaware is pretty neat, but I’m pretty certain that despite a valiant effort at explaining radioactivity by the two Ph.D candidates behind the table, it really didn’t get anywhere with my kid.

So. Yeah. Interesting event, but they maybe need to think a bit harder about the age group they’re pitching to and how they’re going to do that in the future.

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Luther M. Siler

The author of SKYLIGHTS, THE BENEVOLENCE ARCHIVES and several other books.

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