Science Centre’s Workshops an Educational Diversion for Kids in Lockdown

The Science and Technology Education Centre (STEC@UKZN) in UKZN’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science has been presenting weekly online workshops in which children are exposed to a variety of scientific principles through fun, colourful experiments.

STEC’s Dr Tanja Reinhardt, fondly known as “Dr T”, has been running virtual workshops via Zoom, one focused on discovering volcanoes, and a recent one on candy science. Aimed at primary school learners, the interactive sessions on a Thursday afternoon have used engaging experiments, involving basic and easily available equipment and ingredients, to communicate various scientific principles while being entertaining and encouraging children to actively participate from their own homes where many have been carrying out their schoolwork during lockdown.

The most recent edition, focused on “candy science”, saw close to 60 participants joining in with just a few implements and supplies, including small packets of coated fruit candies, bicarbonate of soda, vinegar, warm water, a straw, spoons, glasses and plates.

Expertly guided by Dr T, in the space of just under an hour the young future scientists created multi-coloured bar graphs to learn about statistics, arranged their sweets mathematically by colour, learned about the various parts of the tongue that distinguish the five basic tastes and about the role of smell, tested the pH of a sweet solution, and created vibrant layers to learn about the density of liquids. They concluded the workshop by creating colourful pieces of art using just sweets and water, while a few candies also made a disappearing act during the afternoon as a reward for the experimenting learners.

To supplement the learning many children are now doing from home, STEC has also compiled and distributed printable sheets with a variety of lockdown activities that can be done at home, including fun quizzes, educational games, intriguing experiments, and mathematics challenges to stimulate young minds. STEC has also been running a ScratchJr coding competition during lockdown, encouraging young participants to use the free Scratch programming language to create their own interactive stories and games on their devices under the theme “things that I want to do after the lockdown”. The prize for the winning individual or team project is a Bottle Jet workshop or a LEGO robotics workshop for 10 people, with exciting prizes for runners-up.

STEC@UKZN, which usually runs more physical interactive activities and displays and creates posters and presentations for learners to encourage them to pursue careers in Science and Technology, is meeting the challenge posed by lockdown conditions for parents and educators by developing tools to keep boredom at bay and enhance young learners’ experience of Science and Technology.

Future workshops will be placed on the STEC@UKZN website, and those interested in these workshops and activities can contact stec@ukzn.ac.za for more information or assistance.

Words and photograph: Christine Cuénod