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Inventor excites Manchester fourth-graders with math, science possibilities

New Hampshire Union Leader

October 14. 2014 10:44PM
Manchester inventor Dean Kamen meets with McDonough Elementary School fourth-grade students on Tuesday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — Inventor and entrepreneur Dean Kamen got tired of waiting.

He’s been trying for years to get youngsters engaged and passionate about math and science and engineering.

“You’ve got to make it relevant,” he said Tuesday.

He wants to make kids as passionate about science, technology, engineering, arts and math as they are about sports.

“I love sports,” he said. So do millions of other people, he said, because they started participating when they were young.

Tee-ball starts kids as young as 4, actively playing baseball as they learn the skills and rules.

“I’m jealous,” he said. Math and science tend to be strictly book learning and memorization.

If sports were taught the same way, said Kamen, youngsters would have to study for years, learning history, memorizing field dimensions and mastering the rules, not being allowed to play the game until they were teenagers.

So Kamen and the organization he founded in 1989, FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) and the SEE Science Center in the Millyard will be hosting fourth-graders from Manchester schools for hands-on learning.

They will also bring the FIRST LEGO League program into their classrooms.

Mayor Ted Gatsas said the Junior STEAM Ahead program will eventually be in all the elementary schools. Gatsas said the city is fortunate to have Kamen and his projects here.

Gatsas said FIRST is the expert in project-based learning and the city will benefit from that.

Kamen praised Gatsas for seeing the benefits. “It’s the first city in the country,” he said.

Gatsas and Kamen greeted two classes of fourth-graders from the McDonough School, who were visiting the SEE Center Tuesday. Other schools will follow.

One of the projects the students completed was the making of a material resembling silly putty.

Becky Mayhew, the operations and programs manager at SEE, led the putty making project, asking questions and giving directions in a way that incorporated math and science painlessly and in a way that held the students’ interest, tapped their knowledge and provided experiential learning.

Tess Beckman said: “I have some science kits at home. I’ve done some of them.”

The youngsters eyeballed the measurement of two liquids and then, on directions from Mayhew, poured the detergent into the white glue in a plastic glass and “observed” the reaction. “Eye balls only,” Mayhew cautioned.

“It looks like plastic,” said Connor Ahern.They then were directed to stir the material with a wooden Popsicle stick and, finally, to use the heat and pressure generated by their hands to turn the sticky mess into an acceptable imitation of Silly Putty.

The students met with Kamen, who told them that with math and engineering: “You can take ideas and turn them into reality.” It’s a way to turn science fiction into science reality.

He urged the youngsters to explore and experiment.

The students wanted to know what kinds of things Kamen had invented and he responded: “Most of the things I invent you don’t want to use and I don’t want to use.” Among them are devices for kidney dialysis, an artificial arm and a stent for heart problems.

Gatsas told the students Kamen invented the Segway, the two-wheel transporter.

When asked by a student: “Was it hard to make?” Kamen said he didn’t start out to make the Segway, he started out to make a wheelchair seat that could climb stairs. “It evolved,” he said.

He said he started inventing as a child, rigging a device to make his bed while standing in one spot, using his mother’s clothesline.

He urged the youngsters, especially the girls, to begin to explore science and math now.

"It’s too late later," he said.

General News Manchester

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