Mike Harris sets off a Diet Coke and Mentos eruption during Science Camp at Sullivan Gardens K-8 School. (David Grace photo)
KINGSPORT — It’s been a week of bottle rockets, roller coasters, Mentos fountains and other science fun for more than 40 students rising to grades 3-6 this fall at Sullivan Gardens K-8 School.
The fifth annual Science Camp ran Monday through Thursday at the school, giving students lessons that support curricula taught during the school year.
On Wednesday morning — at the request of students who attended past camps — fifth-grade science and social studies teacher Mike Harris demonstrated a Mentos fountain on a sidewalk outside the school. Using a string “trigger” to drop a line of 12 Mentos into a 2-liter bottle of Diet Coke, he twice made a fountain spew from the top of the bottle.
Harris followed with two demonstrations to make “elephant toothpaste,” which involved taking hydrogen peroxide, in the form of pool bleach, and adding dishwashing soap and food coloring. The addition of yeast produced a chemical reaction, creating heat and resulting in water and oxygen. Visually, it came out blue “toothpaste” the first time and pink the second, collecting in a stainless steel bowl. The pink version sort of resembled cotton candy.
“Touch the pan and you can feel the heat,” he said while “washing” his hands in leftover Diet Coke, noting: “Diet Coke can kill 90-some percent of bacteria.”
Second-grade teacher Carolyn Kestner, fifth-grade math teacher Deborah Gray and fourth-grade math teach Debbie Thouin helped conduct the four-day program, which ran from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. each day.
“The PTA funded the whole thing — $3,500,” Thouin said. No transportation was provided, and students this year were asked to bring their lunches.
Parent Teacher Association President Heather Price, at the school doing some volunteer weeding, said the PTA funds the program because parents believe it is important.
“We’ve worked together since it started,” Thouin said of the four teachers. “We really work as a team.”
Gray facilitated students who made marble roller coasters out of gray pipe insulation sections. The coasters had to have two loops, and students had to figure out how much slope was needed so portable kinetic energy would propel the marbles to the end of the coaster.
“Most of these (projects) are extensions of stuff we know we have to teach,” Harris said, adding that he got some of his ideas from the Internet and other science camps.
“Teachers share with each other like no other profession.”
Added Thouin: “Share and steal, actually.”
She said many of the projects are geared toward Common Core “deeper thinking” standards in math and English/language arts, which will go into effect for the 2014-15 school year.
Harris said an advantage of the camp is that it gives some of the older or more advanced students a chance to help the younger ones or those struggling with a concept.
“You’ve got kids who want to mentor the other kids,” he said.
Among other projects, Kestner helped students make solar ovens out of pizza boxes and aluminum foil, which at 160 degrees Fahrenheit baked cookies.
“The solar oven was my favorite,” said 10-year-old Faith Kestner, a rising fifth grader and daughter of Carolyn Kestner.
“I think the roller coaster has been my favorite so far,” said Alexis Rosenbalm, 11 and a rising sixth grader. Travis Gray, 8 and a rising third grader, said it was his, too.
Skylar Carter, 9 and a rising third grader, said the bubbles project was her favorite. Carolyn Kestner said the students experimented with different formulas for making bubbles, finding the best was a mixture of sugar and liquid soap.
Harris oversaw an experiment with bottle rockets. Baking soda and vinegar are the standard fuel, but by experimenting the students found that a lime juice-vinegar mix was best.
In his third year in the program, Jonathan Lyons, a rising fourth grader who turns 9 today, said the roller coaster was his favorite.
Harris began teaching five years ago, saying he left sales to go into education after he re-examined his life priorities following the death of his wife. He and the other teachers said they like working in the school.
“Parents say Sullivan Elementary is the best-kept secret around,” Gray said. “People don’t know we’re out here.”