Source: The Oak Ridger | CNS Release | November 22, 2019

Oak Ridge second-grader Amya is one smart cookie. She might not be able to give a textbook explanation of Isaac Newton’s third law of motion, but she knows how to apply it.

In a recent classroom experiment, Amya grasped a billiard ball on one end of a long, narrow wooden cradle and struck a line of billiard balls in the cradle, sending the ball on the opposite end rolling. There you have it: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

“I thought at first I was going to get all of the balls rolling, but I only got one,” Amya said. “I learned that.”

Learning through hands-on discovery was all part of the plan for teaching difficult-to-understand physical science concepts to Oak Ridge second-graders. Using a catapult made from a mousetrap, tuning forks, balloons, ping-pong balls, turntables, and other gadgets, students learned the fundamentals of force, mass, gravity, friction, and energy.

With funding provided by the Y-12 National Security Complex, the American Museum of Science and Energy contracted Kris Light to serve as an outreach educator to teach the building blocks of nuclear science to Oak Ridge elementary and middle school students. Y-12 funded the activities as a way to celebrate Nuclear Science Week, observed annually in October to recognize both past achievements in nuclear science and future opportunities.

Light brought all the hands-on exercises into the classroom to teach the forces-and-motion class to Glenwood, Woodland, Willow Brook, and Linden second-graders.

Using real-life examples

“My students had trouble understanding the difference between a push and pull,” said Glenwood teacher Trudy Cartagena. “The real-life examples and the interaction where they pushed and pulled with their neighbor really helped them grasp the concept.”

For seventh-graders at Robertsville and Jefferson middle schools, Light used hula hoops and Lego blocks to teach matter, atoms, elements, compounds, and mixtures. To show a chemical reaction, she combined bromothymol blue, water, baking soda, and calcium chloride in plastic bags.

Curriculum reinforces teaching

Robertsville teachers Stephanie Sluss and Melissa Jeter appreciated the props and chemistry experiments that reinforced their classroom teaching.

“Chemistry can be such a difficult and abstract science for our students, but Kris had a wonderful presentation that was entertaining and, at the same time, thorough and content rich,” Jeter said. “Her props were age appropriate, and the hands-on activities held the students’ attention and prompted good questions.”

Employees encourage interest

Y-12 employees reached out to local students during Nuclear Science Week in other ways, too. During pizza lunch-and-learns, Y-12 military veterans as well as Y-12 members of Women in Nuclear and the American Nuclear Society encouraged Oak Ridge High School students to consider careers in nuclear-related fields.

Veteran Jamie Uptgraft of Y-12 Safeguards and Security talked with students about his transition from the military to Y-12, where he continues his service to the nation.

“Transitioning to the nuclear-science industry was easy for me,” said Uptgraft, who spent 21 years in the Army and whose sons are sophomores at Oak Ridge High School. “What we do here at Y-12 is a mission I can proudly stand behind. It’s vital that the youth in our community see the value and importance of our mission. After all, we’ll need them to take our place in the not-so-distant future.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: The previous story was supplied by Consolidated Nuclear Security LLC (CNS), which operates the Y-12 National Security Complex.