Few can forget the tree that yanked the Weasley's flying car from the sky in "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" or the notion that jelly beans could have flavors such as "ear wax." It's those kinds of memorable experiences that instructor Rosemary Hogan is using to get kids in Carnegie Mellon's C-MITES program excited about science.
"I'll read an excerpt from the book out loud to them about the Whomping Willow and then I'll ask them, 'Can plants move?' and sometimes they'll say no. Sometimes they'll mention Venus flytraps," Hogan explained. "Then I'll bring out sensitive plants that retreat when you touch them, and you should see their eyes light up!"
On another day, Hogan read an excerpt on every flavor of jelly bean and related it to discussions on the possibility of becoming a food scientist — complete with taste testing and a class vote. (Marshmallow Root Beer won hands down.)
Students from kindergarten through ninth grade can sign up for "Harry Potter Science," among a host of other fun classes offered through C-MITES.
Some students learn how to "Solve a Murder Mystery" or explore space in "e-Mission: The Moon, Mars and Beyond." Others even try their hand at designing a new ride at Kennywood Park in the "Amusement Park Physics" class taught by Matthew Anticole.
"For the first six or seven days of the workshop, the kids are run through a 'Newton's Laws' boot camp of sorts," Anticole explained. "We discuss a little bit about what forces and acceleration are, then jump into discussing each of Newton's Three Laws of Motion and the impact those have on the world around them."
All that leads to a trip to Kennywood Park where they spend time before and after rides discussing what they experience and jotting down observations, said Anticole. Afterwards the kids design a new ride, trying to tie in the physics lessons they've learned.
At the end of the course, Anticole hands out a map of this kid-created park.
"It's a nice little souvenir of the class," said Anticole. "Someday I hope one of my former students emails me and tells me that they're an engineer now and shows me their park map framed in their office or something like that."
Weekend and day-long C-MITES classes are offered at Carnegie Mellon's Pittsburgh campus during the spring and fall semesters and at 22 locations across Pennsylvania during the summer. (Check out some frequently asked questions.)