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September 2010 Issue

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'Science on Wheels' Program Rolls Through Local Schools

By Angela Koenig
Published September 2010

What would happen if you put Bill Nye the Science Guy on the Magic School Bus?

That’s akin to what educators at the UC College of Medicine, in collaboration with Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, are doing with this month’s launch of "Science on Wheels”—a fully equipped mobile lab that allows grade school students hands-on experimentation to complement their classroom instruction.

"Our hope is to encourage science at an early age, to help students understand that science can be fun ... that it’s more than just book knowledge,” says College of Medicine Director of Student Affairs Lathel Bryant, who is spearheading the program.

The 30- foot mobile unit mimics the standard laboratory, with wet and dry areas, microscopes and safety equipment to accommodate 24 CPS students in fourth and fifth grades. The instructors are graduate students, or researchers, from science-related UC departments.

"The plan is to visit a school at least one day a week,” says Bryant, who manages a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute that funds the majority of the $82,000 it took to convert the vehicle. Cincinnati Children’s contributed about $7,000, he says, and CPS provides drivers for each site visit.

The learning modules are designed to complement classroom instruction and pique the students’ interest; for instance, the pilot group looked at how acid rain affects black worms and how they survive in a changing environment.

Students will also get to correlate what they learn about the digestive system when they go into the mobile lab and study real human stomachs.

"Most schools don’t have labs of this level, or the resources that we have, to present the students with real-world experiences,” says Bryant. "Our goal is to increase the number of visits and to include other grade levels.”

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