Spring 2003



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Idaho State University Demonstration Road Show and Teacher Workshops

The Idaho State University Physics Road Show has provided Idaho schools with science demonstrations closely tied to national standards, state standards, and school curricula since1994. Since 1998, each demonstration (demo) show has been preceded by a short workshop for teachers to decide on experiments for the demo show, and to discuss experiments and activities teachers can use in their classrooms linked to the topics of the show. The primary goal of the ISU Physics Road Show is to improve science literacy and interest in science in K-12 students and teachers.

ISU faculty and students have conducted 332 science demonstration shows for Idaho elementary, middle, junior high, and high schools with a total estimated attendance of over 70,000. The presentations are designed to spark enthusiasm in science, and to compliment science curricula by providing flashy demonstrations on required topics in science for the grade levels served according to the Idaho State Board of Education Standards for Excellence and the National Science Education Standards. Prior to a presentation, teachers at the school are contacted to find out what science topics they are covering. This determines the theme for the presentation. An ISU faculty member meets with school faculty in a one to four hour workshop to discuss the presentation and to distribute descriptions of each demonstration. Information is provided on activities for each grade related to the presentation, and to related topics teachers are covering in their class that week. Several of these activities are demonstrated and materials needed for them are left with the teachers. Special care is taken to reference activities and demos to specific chapters and units in the science text used at each school visited. Teachers are also provided with information on teaching resources available in books, journals, and on the web. In elementary schools, attendance by at least one teacher from each grade level is considered mandatory. In junior high and high schools, attendance by science teachers is mandatory. The demo show is postponed or canceled if too few teachers attend the workshop. This program appears to be popular since the program is currently booked through the spring of 2005 with an average of 32 visits to schools each year.

Organization is very important to outreach efforts. ISU faculty involved in the program have teaching and research obligations as well. Proper organization significantly reduces the preparation time required for each visitation. The vast majority of equipment used is sole‑use, i.e. materials that are used only in demo road shows. There is standard set of demos for each show, and lists are maintained of equipment and supplies needed for each demo. As much of the equipment as possible is stored in large Rubbermaid “Action Packers” (sturdy plastic bins), with lists of contents fixed to the inside lid. Also listed are items to be added at the last minute, such as eggs, bananas, and equipment to be borrowed. Having everything you need for each demo in a specific bin saves a great deal of setup time. The bins are easy to transport, are only unloaded right before a show, and properly packed right after.

The demo shows each last between 50 and 90 minutes, selected from approximately 120 minutes of prepared material, with one or more presentations of the same show per school visit. The preferred audience size is 200 students or less. Four different shows have been prepared for presentation, titled “States of Matter”, “Forces and Motion”, “Electricity and Magnetism”, and “Sound and Waves”. Each show consists of a series of demonstrations of physical phenomena connected by a common theme and chosen for visual impact. Every presentation begins with a discussion of science and what scientists do, as well as the popping of helium and hydrogen filled balloons with a lighter. Although many of the demonstrations are at first impression destructive, extensive precautions are taken to assure audience safety, and to limit the amount of clean-up necessary after each presentation. All demonstrations are chosen and explained at a level appropriate to the particular audience.

The States of Matter show contains demonstrations on the nature of solids, liquids and gasses. These include a balloon balance, a candle ladder with a CO2 "wave", floating and sinking things in a fish tank, a vacuum chamber, Madelung hemispheres, and several experiments involving liquid nitrogen. Phase changes are demonstrated with the collapsing of a 50-gallon steel drum. How airplanes fly, how curve balls curve and how houses explode with the passage of a tornado is illustrated with the use of leaf-blowers, a shop-vac, toilet paper, a few spinning styrofoam balls, and a giant vortex generator.

In the accompanying teacher workshop, teachers are shown how to illustrate pressure with several experiments using plastic pop bottles, balloons, and water. They are shown how to use a 60 cc syringe to make a miniature vacuum chamber. Experiments on density and buoyancy, temperature and heat, and the differences between the states of matter are discussed. Recipes for glue and borax “goop” are distributed, and several Bernoulli experiments are performed with hair dryers, straws, and Styrofoam cups.

The Forces and Motion show involves a bit more audience participation and focuses on demonstrations of kinematics. Demos include a toilet paper tug, weights with breakable strings, the old tablecloth trick, a resolution of forces tug-of-war, an egg toss into a sheet, action and reaction with skateboards, a water rocket, and a Culligan water jug rocket. A rotating stool, bike wheel, and a rolling chain are often shown as well. The bed of nails serves as a finale.

In the Forces and Motion teacher workshop, teachers are given several cheap energy toys, a water rocket and launcher, and a stomp rocket launcher made from a pop bottle and PVC pipe. Toys are used to discuss Newton’s Laws and energy. As with all teacher workshops, teachers are encouraged to involve students in inquiry-based interactive activities and experiments. When time allows, teachers are guided through examples of activities using these techniques.

The Electricity and Magnetism show covers electrostatics, electricity, magnetism, and their interrelations. The concept of charge is introduced with balloons, fur, plastic pipe, silk, glass, ping pong balls, soap bubbles, and ISU students running around with styrofoam balls. Several experiments are also done with a Van de Graff generator. Magnetism and its relation to moving charges is demonstrated with electromagnets, electron beams, and simple motors and generators. Several smaller experiments are projected onto a large screen with a video camera and projector. To caution the audience on the dangers of electricity a pickle is electrocuted. The show is topped off with exhibitions of an 8' Jacob’s ladder, a rail gun, and a Tesla coil.

For the Electricity and Magnetism workshop, teachers build electroscopes and use them in electrostatics experiments. The connection between electricity and magnetism is shown with a battery, wire, and a compass. Teachers are also shown how to build electromagnets, simple motors, and how to connect a cheap dc motor to a headphone jack of a radio to make a speaker.

Sound and Waves presentations are the most difficult to set up and present. It begins with a laser light and sound show that serves to introduce sound as a vibration. Other demos include waves on springs, a 20' torsion wave machine, singing rods, Chladni plates, hoot tubes, resonance boxes, and a wine glass tune. Short lengths of PVC are handed out to students, who “pop” them on their hands to perform a simple tune. A wine glass illuminated with a strobe light is shattered with sound. A laptop computer with Fourier synthesis software is used to demonstrate the recipe of sounds. As in the Electricity and Magnetism show, several of these are projected onto a large screen. An 8' flame tube is used as a finale.

In the Sound and Waves workshop, teachers are given slinkys, a set of the pvc “poppers”, a set of golf-tube “boom whackers”, and a coffee can drum and mirror they can use for their own laser light and sound show. They are guided through an experiment with yarn to illustrate the effects of tension, length, and mass on the speed of waves and the pitch of the sound carried by the waves. Also demonstrated are cup and string phones, film can crumhorns, soda straw reed pipes, and soda straw torsional wave machines. As in all of the teacher workshops, teachers construct these themselves if there is time. Otherwise, samples are distributed, demonstrated, and discussed.

Demonstration shows are difficult without external funding. For the first four years of the program, schools were requested to provide funds to cover expendable materials and supplies, and to deposit into an account for equipment repair and. The total requested was usually around $85. The PTA for the school usually covered this cost. Since 1998 the program has been entirely supported by grants and funds provided by the ISU College of Arts and Sciences. The publicity and popularity of the road show is responsible for the administration’s decision to designate ISU funds to support the program, and purchase of an ISU cargo van for physics outreach. Grants have been awarded by the Idaho Community Foundation, the Albertson’s Foundation, and the NASA Idaho Space Grant Consortium. The annual budget for the road show has been approximately $8,500 for the last four years. Most of this is used to pay students to assist in the presentations and to construct and repair equipment.

To increase public awareness of this program and to provide public education, the ISU Society of Physics Students have organized a demonstration show on campus once or twice a year since the fall of 1993. The total estimated attendance for the campus shows is estimated to be over 3,500. A series of web pages linked to the Department of Physics home page providing complete descriptions and schedules of outreach and educational programs, information on demos and activities teachers can do in their classroom, and a forum for questions, feedback, and reservation requests are available at:

Steve Shropshire
Department of Physics
Idaho State University
Pocatello, ID 83209
Phone 208-282-2212