What Is the CMU Science Van Program?

The Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) Science Van Program was established in March 1998 by Visiting Professor Garry F. P. Warnock. Dr. Warnock's idea for creation of a science outreach program for middle schools (grades 5-9) at Carnegie Mellon was based on his prior position as Director (1992-1997) of the University of Pittsburgh's Chemistry/Physics Van Program, which was highly successful in western Pennsylvania and beyond. Since March 1998, the CMU Science Van Program has gained an outstanding reputation for bringing hands-on science activities, science assemblies, and workshops to students and teachers in grades 5-9 in Allegheny and surrounding counties in western Pennsylvania. The success of the CMU Science Van Program is due in huge part to the expertise, diligence, persistence, and love of teaching possessed by Dr. Warnock and the educators who have worked with him over the years.

The CMU Science Van Program, or "Van Program" for short, is a group of three to four (more at times) scientists (the "Van Guys") who conduct science assemblies and hands-on classroom activities in science for students in grades 5-9 in Pittsburgh area schools. The VAN in "Van Program" comes about because the Van Guys bring their science assemblies and hands-on activities to the schools IN A RED VAN, with the logo "Carnegie Mellon SCIENCE OUTREACH" printed on it. The scientists are college professors and retired high school science teachers; sometimes, graduate and undergraduate students and scientists from other schools and industries participate in the programs. The assemblies are large-scale science demonstrations for large audiences (>50 students usually); they usually cover more than one topic in science. The hands-on classroom activities are geared toward the smaller classroom environment (average class size ~ 20) and cover one area of science. Initial contacts with area schools are made through letters or e-mails to teachers and/or principals. These letters and e-mails explain the purpose and activities of the Van Program, and give contact information for arrangement of visits to the schools. Interested teachers/principals then arrange with Van Program staff the dates, times, topics, and travel directions for science assemblies and hands-on activities at the schools.

The Van Program also offers workshops for science teachers in grades 5-9. These workshops, held on Saturday mornings during the regular academic year, offer middle school science teachers the opportunity to learn about and do the various demonstrations and experiments the Van Guys do. The Saturday workshops also give teachers a chance to exchange ideas with their colleagues on how to use what they learn from the workshop in their classes. In addition, the teachers go home with a kit of equipment and a booklet to help them carry out demos in their science classes back at school. Workshop topics have included: electricity and magnetism, biology, polymers, geology, and light and color.

As for the science topics covered in Van Program visits to schools, they have included the following: Bernoulli's principle, phase changes, polymers, light and color, electricity and magnetism, the Periodic Table of the Elements, simple machines, the pendulum, chemistry in a bag, biology. Science assemblies have included demonstrations on Bernoulli's principle, electricity and magnetism, light and color, and cryogenics (dry ice and liquid nitrogen).

In addition, the CMU Science Van Program has presented a teacher workshop on electricity and magnetism, and a series of 30-minute classes on Bernoulli's principle to middle-school students, at the 2001 Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy, held in New Orleans. Thus, the Van Program's excellence in science outreach is now known beyond western Pennsylvania!

To learn more about the CMU Science Van Program, contact the Van Guys at (412) 268-4229, or contact the Van Guys via e-mail:

Dr. Garry Warnock (warnock@andrew.cmu.edu)

Hugh Carr (hcarr@andrew.cmu.edu)

John Ziegler (jziegler@andrew.cmu.edu)

 

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