December 03, 1997 1 min read

Charles Scaife is a chemistry professor who has one definite idea about how to turn youngsters on to the world of science--it has to be hands-on.

With that in mind, the professor from Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., and his wife, Priscilla, take time out each month to hold science workshops at elementary schools. They teach classes all day in workshops set up by the school’s principal and then hold an evening session for parents and students.

The school visits have two goals, according to Mr. Scaife. The first is to allow children and their parents to experience close up the sense of surprise that science can provide.

“We’re more concerned about communication between parent and child,” Mr. Scaife said in a recent interview. “The interactive time gets them talking, and in the meantime, good science is taking place.”

The second goal is to encourage teachers to be more adventurous in the classroom. “I make sure the whole staff attends and have them try some of the hands-on activities,” he said.

He says that while high school and middle school science teachers generally have some background in science, grade school teachers often do not.

Experiments that Mr. Scaife creates can be done on a tight budget, using everyday materials such as boxes of breakfast cereal, black ink, glue, Alka-Seltzer tablets, pennies, and Ziploc bags.

In one of his favorite experiments, he has a student hold up a Ziploc bag filled with water while he pushes a pencil into it. No one gets wet because the polymer seals right up.

Mr. Scaife, who has taught chemistry for 31 years, got started with his workshops as an idea for his sabbatical project in 1994. Mr. and Mrs. Scaife filled the family van with odds and ends and traveled to schools in five Northeastern states, where they held workshops.

Enthusiasm for his project has caught on, although with his schedule these days he can only squeeze in a half-dozen or so workshops a month, mostly in the New York area. His last workshop drew over 600 parents and students.

He is now teaching his students the workshop techniques so they can expand the program.