Milliones and Reizenstein Middle School Students Bring Home Awards from Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science-Mellon College of Science - Carnegie Mellon University

Monday, March 7, 2005

Milliones and Reizenstein Middle School Students Bring Home Awards from Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science

In a laboratory on Carnegie Mellon’s campus, two students conduct an experiment to detect the Evanescent Wave formed when light reflects off of a surface at a critical angle. After calculating angles and performing complex mathematical calculations, they discuss some of the underlying concepts, such as waves, light, electricity and magnetism.

This scenario may not seem out of the ordinary until you realize that one student is a 7th grader from the Reizenstein Middle School in East Liberty. For the past seven years, Carnegie Mellon undergraduates have worked with students from Milliones Technological Academy, a middle school in the Hill District, teaching them fundamental physics concepts and providing them with hands-on experience to design their own scientific experiments. This year, the program has added another inner-city middle school — the Reizenstein Middle School — to become the Carnegie Mellon-Milliones/Reizenstein Physics Concepts Program.

Led since 1998 by Leonard Kisslinger, professor of physics at Carnegie Mellon, the program provides a unique opportunity for inner-city children to become involved in science and to practice how scientific research is conducted. In addition, the participants form solid relationships with college student role models and build self-confidence.

The program requires a big commitment. Beginning in late September, approximately twenty 7th and 8th grade students arrive on Carnegie Mellon’s campus and are paired with mentors. Together mentor-student teams spend each Tuesday afternoon designing and carrying out a science experiment. The goal — Competition in the Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science (PJAS) science fair, which this year took place on February 5th. The PJAS competition is demanding. Students are required to prepare a ten-minute presentation about their science projects and present them to three judges and a room full of their peers. Projects often include detailed transparencies with graphs, charts and equations. Students are expected to answer questions from the judges after completing their presentations.

“Going to the PJAS, standing in front of judges and explaining months of their work is really worthwhile,” said Kisslinger. “And it helps these inner-city students achieve our goal of building self-confidence.”

In the months leading up to the PJAS competition, students and their mentors were busy conducting experiments, analyzing data, and learning how to think about intricate physics concepts, activities not typical of a middle school classroom. This year’s science projects included a look at Bernoulli’s principle to determine how airplanes fly, a study of the Doppler effect, and an analysis of “shoot the monkey,” a scenario that requires the development of equations to calculate how a projectile can accurately hit a falling object.

“Doing this experiment was fun,” said Darrell Cosby, a seventh grader at Reizenstein. “I learned a lot. I was scared when I stood up to go in front of the judges, but I went up there.”

Cosby was one of 14 Carnegie Mellon-Milliones/Reizenstein Physics Concepts Program students that participated in this year’s PJAS competition. Four students won first-place awards and will go to Penn State to present their projects at the State PJAS competition in May. Two students received third place awards, and eight students received second place awards.

The principal of the Reizenstein Middle School, an enthusiastic supporter of the program, is delighted with the hard work that his students have been doing. The program has improved the spirit of the entire Milliones school, according to the administration there.

“I’m sure that these students will look back someday and see how much they benefited from this experience,” said Kisslinger.