What do you call the chance to touch a human brain, dance with friends, practice with athletic tape and extract the DNA of a strawberry?
If you’re a fourth-grader at Wilbur Elementary in Bear, you call it a very cool day at Inspiretist, an event designed to get students thinking about science in new ways. The inaugural event, held last month at Wilbur, part of the Christina School District, included more than two dozen University of Delaware staff, faculty and graduate students who showed how they use science on a daily basis. The College of Health Sciences boasted the most attendees from UD.
Whether it was passing around a human brain as Jean-Philippe Laurenceau, professor in Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, did – to gasps and squeals from curious students – or wheeling in a skeleton sidekick for a quick anatomy lesson, like athletic trainers Dan Watson and Steven Browne, UD faculty and students provided the kind of science lessons students don’t typically find in a textbook.
Inspiretist was organized by Shelby Dorr, a fourth-grade teacher at Wilbur Elementary and a UD alumna. Dorr said students tend to see science as an isolated topic, so the goal of the event was to show them how science can be applied in the real world.
“They tend to think of science as doctors and test tubes, and while that’s great, it also can be very stereotypical. We wanted to bring in as many examples as we could of people who are working in science,” Dorr said. “It’s not a career day, but I hope this will continue their interest and engagement in science.”
At one table, Annie Renzetti, a veterinarian and instructor in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, wowed students by showing them the bones that make up a horse’s skull.
“Do you have its body here?” one girl asked.
“No, it’s too big,” Renzetti replied.
She may not have had a horse’s body to display, but Renzetti did bring something even more interactive – a 30-piece, life-size puzzle of a horse’s body that she made from butcher paper. Students scrambled to the floor to see if they could connect the puzzle before the time ended and they moved to the next station.
Nearby, Brittany Overstreet, an assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Applied Physiology, held an impromptu dance party. Her circle of students demonstrated the floss as well as many of the moves popular from the Fortnite video game.
“Dance until you hear the music stop,” Overstreet said. When her speaker went silent, she asked students what they noticed. “Do you notice a difference in your breath, in your heartbeat?”
Next to Overstreet and her dancers, students donned blue latex gloves and dangled strawberry DNA off a wooden stick after learning how to extract the molecules from the smashed fruit.
But it was Laurenceau who may have had the biggest wow factor, thanks to the human brain he passed around to students. After explaining how the brain the brain interprets information from our senses, he asked students what they discovered about the brain.
“That it stinks,” one grossed-out student said.
Frank Newton, associate dean for administration and operations in the UD College of Health Sciences, said the event highlighted UD’s commitment to the community. “Being able to participate in events like this and connect elementary school students with Health Sciences faculty through engaging learning activities is a tremendous opportunity to inspire the next generation of scientists,” said Newton, who helped organize UD’s participation in the event.