Years ago, when I spent my summer vacations teaching yoga at a youth camp, the head of the camp said he was looking for a magician to hire that would work with the children teaching them tricks. I inquired more about the qualifications he was looking for in such an individual and he answered, "Well, the best magicians are science teachers. Do you know any science teachers?"
Yes, there is much about science that appears to be magical. Yet, it also requires just the right combinations of this and that to create the other. That "other" is the reaction or the product of the scientific act. What is so magical about it is that it is often eye candy. Everyone loves to see bubbling concoctions or magnetic couplings. Everyone includes seniors.
My first Science for Seniors activity was in fact one science and two art activities. The basic subject was coloring mixing.
After all of the seniors were seated at the designated tables, I asked if anyone knew the three basic colors. There was no reply so I informed them - blue, red and yellow. I held up color sheets of paper for them to view. I had covered the table with newspaper earlier to limit the amount of clean-up needed afterwards. I placed medium sized jars in front of each of the seniors and one in front of myself. I wanted the jars to be of medium size so that each individual could easily see the activity for themselves and experience it personally. The small, white, six cupped, plastic trays that I had used in the Montessori classroom would not provide the three-dimensional viewing opportunities I wanted them to experience at The Bridge.
I opened the lid of my jar and poured water into it from a pitcher I had placed nearby. I filled the jar hallway. I raised the jar and showed everyone the clear water. Next I held a tube of blue food coloring in my hand and asked all what color it was. The answer, "Blue" was given. I squeezed some into the opened mouth of the jar and watched as the water turned red. There were gasps made by some of the seniors. It amazed them. I next held out the tube of red food coloring and did the same as I had with the blue. When the red and blue food coloring were in the jar, I put the lid back on and shook the jar. The color purple was dark and evident. One of the seniors said, "I have never seen anything like that. It turned purple! Can you do that again?"
Instead of doing it again myself, I provided each of the seniors with water for their jars and tubes of food coloring. I let them decide what to mix with what. All were fascinated. All were participating.
After the color mixing Senior Science activity, I then handed out large, white coffee filters and encouraged each to squirt some of the food coloring onto them. I then handed out spoons and small, containers of water. I asked each participant to spoon some water onto the food-colored, coffee filters. Next, I said to use the back of the spoons to spread the colors around mixing them as they went. The scene resembled a tie-dye festival. In fact one of the seniors suddenly began speaking about "The Grateful Dead."
When these were completed, we moved onto the final activity - mixing colors when creating a drawing or other composition. I removed the coffee filters and water and placed trays of oil pastels on the table. I handed out large sheets of white paper and invited them to use the same primary colors - red, blue and yellow - and to also use their fingers to smudge the colors together so as to mix them as we had in the jars with the food coloring. Everyone began immediately and worked on their individual pieces for 20-25 minutes.
The time allotted for all three activities was an hour. I never felt that we were rushed or that any of the seniors felt confused or overwhelmed. Instead, the activities flowed into one and other. It was very successful. One of the seniors looked at me after and asked, "What do you call what we just did Susan?" I answered, "Science for Seniors." She responded, "That's good! I like it!"
However, one of the participants decided that he just wanted to draw and so he did. He drew a picture of himself as a dog. He was quite pleased with it.
I lead a Science for Senors group every week now at the Bridge. Next week, on Hawaii Day, we are going to make volcanoes!
Maria Montessori wrote about science, "We especially need imagination in science. It is not all mathematics, nor all logic, but it is somewhat beauty and poetry." For me, it made sense to move from science to art; to move from scientific wonder to artistic expression. I can't help but say that famous, coined Montessori phrase, "Leap to abstraction," while still acknowledging that they may not remember the leap at all, let alone the science or the art. But during that hour, their hands moved, their eyes watched in wonder and they creatively expressed themselves. Dwell in the moment.