Down to a science: Because learning is doing

KARACHI: You can make water explode if you put Vitamin C in it. That’s what eight-year-old Hamza Humayun taught me at the Scientist Factory (SF).

Scientist Factory is a Norwegian social enterprise created with the philosophy that the best way to learn science is by doing. SF’s Pakistan Project began last year when they conducted a science workshop for the students of the educational organisation, The Garage School. Expanding on their initiative from last year, this year SF is conducting three different workshops. One of them is a two-week workshop at the Haque Academy for children aged between eight and 12.

Humayun, who lives in Lahore and is visiting his grandparents in Karachi for the summer, is attending the course during his holidays. Humayun’s mother came across the summer course while searching online for an activity to keep her son occupied during the hot months.

According to his grandmother Shahnaz Jillani, Humayun is obsessed with TV shows that depict mad scientists carrying out wild and outrageous scientific experiments. When asked whether he’d like to pursue a career in science when he grows up, Humayun responded, “I’ll think about it.”

Project manager for the Norwegian venture and incharge of their Pakistani project, Lalah Rukh conducts the workshops. During one of the sessions at the Haque Academy, she laid out six glasses with numerous household liquids at the bottom of each glass. She then brandished a sixth glass containing a ‘mystery’ purple liquid. She explained to the eager students that the liquid would change the colour of each of the numerous liquids present in the glasses. As she poured the liquid, some of the liquids changed to a bluish-green whereas the others turned to a pinkish hue. She then proceeded to explain to the awed students that the purplish liquid was red cabbage extract dissolved in water and it was a helpful indicator in judging whether a chemical was acidic, basic or neutral.

The children, while being carefully supervised, proceeded to experiment themselves with the red cabbage extract. “We’re doing this for proof of concept,” she said. “We feel children learn best when they experiment themselves.”

Science camps are conducted across the world for students, who have shown extraordinary promise in the field. The SF, however, operates with a different philosophy. “We don’t want to discriminate that way. Our courses are for everyone,” added Rukh.

Along with the course at Haque Academy, SF is also conducting another workshop at The 2nd Floor in the upcoming weeks. Moreover, SF has also arranged a separate one-week course for the children of Aman Foundation’s low income staff and the students of Kiran School, Lyari for underprivileged children.

This articles was first published in The Express Tribune on June 16, 2014.

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