Sparks fly as SLU students teach science lessons

Lisa Johnston |

The hour-long science class was over when a woman cracked open the door and told the students to gather their things and meet downstairs.

But one student lingered. He sat at a desk awhile, taking in what had just happened -- the students joined St. Louis University Chemistry Club students in experiments about electricity and electrons. No boring lectures. No taking notes. They powered a calculator and a light with a potato and watched sparks jump off a wand that was held next to a spinning metal globe charged with electrical current. When the light was turned off, the electrons could be seen as sparks, with the closer the wand got to the ball the faster the electrons jumped.

The lingering student got up and walked down the stairs. But his memories of what had just happened won't soon fade away.

Terron Floyd, an eighth-grader at Carr Lane Visual and Performing Arts School in St. Louis, attended the class for the first time, and earlier talked about powering a small light bulb. "It was fun and a new experience," he said. "I'd never done that before."

Brent Znosko, faculty adviser for the club and a member of St. Peter Parish in Kirkwood, noted that the interactive lessons from SLU Chemistry Club help students learn basic concepts, such as electricity, that they normally would find challenging. A student chapter of the American Chemical Society, the club was awarded a grant from the Society for the 2014-15 school year "to improve the science learning experience of under-represented minority and economically disadvantaged K-12 students."

The lessons are provided to an after-school program called North Campus, which provides a safe place for students of disadvantaged or low-income families to go after school. In north St. Louis, the campus serves sixth- through eighth-graders who come from urban schools, many of which don't have strong science programs. This is the second year the club has received the grant to purchase supplies for the lessons ranging from acids and bases to states of matter to laboratory practices. This year lessons are added on how to interpret the periodic table and learning the parts of the atom.

Lisa Green, a junior biochemistry major at SLU and vice president of service for the club, was one of five club members volunteering at the class Oct. 29. Green, who is a member of All Saints Parish in Cincinnati and attends St. Francis Xavier (College Church) Parish on campus, enjoys watching the excitement of the students. Service is a big part of the Jesuit university, she said, "and as an urban campus, it's important that we help youth in the inner city."

Patrick Sweeney, a junior biochemistry major at SLU from St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Memphis, said students have a misconception about science: "This is a unique way of getting them interested. You can see they're having a lot of fun."

The Jesuits who sponsor the university "are all about education, and this lines up with that mission," he said.

Znosko noted that the SLU students benefit as well by planning, organizing and presenting the lessons.

The winners are the students such as Delmya Black, a seventh-grader at Lyon Academy in St. Louis. She equated the science experiments with good times, saying, "It makes me feel happy."

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