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Pleasanton Weekly

News - July 5, 2013

Teens turn teachers in summer program for kids

SciFY aims to encourage younger students to think about science

by Glenn Wohltmann

Members of Amador Valley High's Science For Youth Club -- SciFY, for short -- have taken it on themselves to put on a series of afternoon courses this summer at the library with the hope of inspiring younger people.

"We were already doing presentations, but it wasn't packaged in a way that appealed to kids, so this summer I wanted to make it into one big thing, kind of making it kid friendly, hoping they would come back next time," said Daniel Huang, 17, one of SciFy's members and a senior at Amador. "I saw there was a lot of improvement that could be made."

So far, it seems to be working. On July 1, a presentation called Crime Busters drew about a dozen kids, who worked their way through a number of stations to track down an evildoer.

The kids had to make their way through eight suspects, using evidence to sort out the innocent from the guilty. At each station, the kids could eliminate one suspect, using fingerprints, blood analysis, facial expressions, fiber analysis and fluids to track down the bad guy.

Along the way, they got stickers, and those who successfully identified the perpetrator were eligible for prizes.

"To keep kids coming back, if you go to every booth during our presentation, you get checked off and you win prizes," Huang said. "We have small bouncy balls, really cool stamps and stickers, tattoos, key chains, and really small toys."

Crime busters is just one of the courses. The others are Clean Energy, Robotics, Space Exploration, Nuclear Science and Ecosystems.

Steven Chang is among the core group of four -- Huang, club President Christine Chen, Jennifer Yip and Yashwanth Nannapaneni -- who set up and man the booths.

"We wanted to have a more scientific program other than just reading books," Chang said.

SciFY was formed a couple of years ago with idea of teaching younger kids about science.

"We're also trying to move in a direction where science interacts with their lives," said Huang, who's in charge of promoting the program.

The program has been held at the library for more than a year, according to Chen, 17, a senior at Amador.

"In the beginning, we would just show up to the library and set up and hope that people would come, people from the library. It was really laid back," Chen said. "After a while, we started having new members and we realized that wasn't enough."

So the group came up with a marketing strategy to bring in more of their target audience, elementary and middle school students.

"We never had a flier, so this time I wanted to design a flier -- or at least ask my friends to create a flier -- that would appeal to kids and parents at the same time," Huang said.

In addition to the hands on sessions, the kids are posed questions designed to get them to think.

"This year we really wanted to focus on group discussions," Huang explained. "In our presentation we stop and talk about questions, even things we don't know."

For example, in a recent session on robotics, the audience was asked to think about the larger implications of automation: What would happen if a robot took their parent's job?

"The parents like these discussions," Huang said. "It does a good job of teaching them to apply what they just learned."

Chen joined SciFY as a sophomore after being introduced to the club by a friend.

"We wanted to introduce concepts that kids wanted to think about, things where they would say, 'I really liked that,' and that would spark their interest in science," she said.

Originally, the program was targeted toward middle schoolers, but last year, the club began incorporating elementary schools with an eye toward getting kids to consider joining ESO, the Elementary Science Olympiad.

"We are hoping they take what they know and apply it to something even bigger," Chen said. "What we want to do is let kids experience what real world material is like."

While some clubs are focused on getting students volunteer hours -- which have become important for college applicants -- Chen said SciFY is a labor of love for those involved, with a core of volunteers in addition to those manning the stations.

"This whole club, every single person is dedicated to it," she said. "Every single member has made a huge effort."

It also has its members thinking about their own lives.

"I think I'm learning a lot about what I'd like to do in the future, and yeah, I'm also getting volunteer hours," Huang said, adding he's looking at ways of incorporating science and his new-found love of teaching.

"I want to be a mix of both, so maybe, like, a professor. But I'm still basically undecided," he said.

Science! Science!

Science For Youth Club sessions:

2 p.m. July 8: Robotics

7 p.m. July 10: Space Exploration

10:30 a.m. July 16: Nuclear Science

10:30 a.m. July 17: Crime Busters

3 p.m. July 23: Ecosystems

1:30 p.m. July 25: Clean Energy

2 p.m. August 6: Robotics

2 p.m. July 13: Space Exploration