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The City Journals

The oohs and ahhs of science

Apr 10, 2018 04:38PM ● By Jet Burnham

Reaction Time instructor Phillip Evans entertains students with impressive science experiments and cheesy jokes. (Jet Burnham/City Journals)

Mix vinegar and baking soda and you get foam. Mix fifth-graders and chemicals and you get fun. 

“We love chemical reactions because they ooze up, they blow up, they make weird smells and make gross, disgusting slime,” said Phillip Evans, an instructor with Reaction Time, a science outreach program from Discovery Gateway Museum. Evans entertained the fifth-graders at Taylorsville Elementary with a 45-minute assembly covering fifth-grade science core concepts like the scientific method, states of matter and chemical reactions. 

Evans conducted the presentation like a stand-up comedian meets magician meets mad scientist. He told funny anecdotes and played with puns as he changed the characteristics and colors of chemicals. 

Then the students had a chance to play around themselves. Evans led a 30-minute hands-on lab experience with each individual class. Reaction Time provided materials and safety equipment for students to observe the interactions of vinegar, milk, fertilizer, vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice and purple cabbage juice. Students were encouraged to mix and match the chemicals in any way they wanted. By creating their own experiments and documenting them, students applied many of the science concepts they’d been learning from their textbooks.

“I love science being hands on; it makes science come to life, and the children love the surprises that may come along,” said Dayna Madsen, a fifth-grade teacher at Taylorsville Elementary. “The Gateway provided a wonderful opportunity for the students to experience for themselves the surprises and ‘ooh’s and ahhh’s’ of the demonstration.” 

Evans said the outreach program is a great way to get kids excited about science at a young age. He said as fewer and fewer college students go into the fields of physics, chemistry, geology and astronomy, the shortage of scientists grows.

“If we can just spark an interest at this level, then hopefully they’ll continue on to the hard sciences,” Evans said.  “The whole idea is to give them an informal exposure to science that they can remember, learn and have fun.”

Discovery Gateway, which provided each student with a free pass to the museum, is a great resource to expose kids to science in real life, said Madsen. The museum is one of the ways children become interested in S.T.E.M. (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects.

“Science needs to be a hands-on activity or the real world won’t make any sense,” said Madsen.

The goal of the outreach program is to help students make a connection of what they are learning in the classroom to wider scientific concepts in the world around them.

“Everywhere you look, there is science,” Evans told the students. He talked about the forensics they see on TV shows, the science of fireworks they enjoy during the summer and even the role science plays in preserving treats such as Twinkies.

Evans has been an outreach instructor with Reaction Time for five years. He figures he visits about 200 schools per year, reaching about 47,000 kids annually. He provided the teachers with follow-up lesson plans, activity materials and science equipment to allow students to continue exploring the scientific concepts in their classroom.

Reaction Time is part of Informal Science Education Enhancement (iSEE), a collaboration of nonprofit educational organizations in Utah. At, it states the goal of the program is “to spark students’ natural curiosity and sense of wonder by providing exciting opportunities to experience science.” 

Utah iSEE participants include Clark Planetarium, Discovery Gateway, The Children’s Museum of Utah, HawkWatch International, The Leonardo, Loveland Living Planet Aquarium, Natural History Museum of Utah, Red Butte Garden, Thanksgiving Point and Utah’s Hogle Zoo.

The Utah State Board of Education administers the funds made available for the program by the Utah State Legislature. Curriculum enrichment covers the Utah State Science Core Standards for grades K–12 in biology, chemistry, earth science and physics by providing field trips, outreach activities, teacher resources and teacher professional development.