The Mobile Discovery Center, sponsored by the National Science Center and the U.S. Army, rolled into Buchtel school Thursday morning to give students an electrifying reprieve from the grueling preparation of standardized test-taking season.
The 65-foot-long portable classroom dished out 50-minute science demonstrations for groups of 35 to 40 attentive middle school students. High school students will visit the Mobile Discovery Center today.
“Some of these kids just have a tough time being calm,” said Dana Starvaggi, a seventh-grade science teacher at Buchtel.
With proficiency testing administered next week, Starvaggi’s students welcomed the 50-minute break from test preparation.
“When standardized testing dominates, the kids really do not respond. This is the stuff the kids remember, not the review packet for the [Ohio Achievement Assessment],” Starvaggi said.
Inside the Mobile Discovery Center, Sydney Jones — one of Starvaggi’s students — sat in a chair surrounded by three classmates. Ungrounded with her legs resting on a plastic stool, she served as the centerpiece in an interactive demonstration of the Tesla coil, a late-19th century invention still commonly found in mobile devices, including cellphones and remote controls.
Two classmates held elongated fluorescent bulbs at her sides, and a third classmate suspended another bulb, fashioned in the shape of a crown, over her head.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Steve McCarroll, one of two presenters who came with the Mobile Discovery Center, slipped an orange light bulb into her left hand.
“I’m going to send 50,000 volts of electricity through this light bulb,” he said, as the crowd perked up and Jones whimpered in the chair. “You volunteered for this. We’re past the point of no return.”
“I’m scared,” she said, as the lights went out.
The crowd’s amusement and laughter turned quickly to silent anticipation as McCarroll applied an electric charge to the orange light bulb. The current traveled painlessly up Jones’ arm, turning the cringing student into a battery that lit up any light bulb within inches of her body.
“It’s a new hazard for me,” McCarroll said jokingly of the students after the first class shuffled out. A former artillery soldier and recruiter, McCarroll’s current tour of duty takes him from school to school on an 11-state circuit, which ends in June when schools close for the summer.
Buchtel is the Mobile Discovery Center’s only Ohio stop.
It’s a stop that retired Col. Wayne Recknor, senior aerospace science instructor in the high school’s Army ROTC program, has been patiently awaiting.
Recknor requested the Mobile Discovery Center from the National Science Center in Georgia more than four years ago. At the time, he was placed on a five- to seven-year waiting list.
While he waited for a date, the National Science Center sent him a box of props to use during his science classes, which focus on space exploration and aviation. When the box’s materials are depleted, he sends it back to Georgia, where the National Science Center refills it.
Recknor uses the box to keep his students entertained. Next year, he plans to project his computer-generated flight simulator onto the wall to emulate a control tower and cockpit. He does what he can to reap the benefits of interactive lessons. So when he saw the opportunity to request the Mobile Discovery Center, he acted.
“If I see something, I go for it,” he said. “When I saw this, it looked like a lot of fun for the kids.”
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.