A Real Scientist Visited Mrs. Griffin's Class
Mrs. Griffin’s students were on the edge of their seats for nearly an hour as Robert Klepper, or “Doc”, who has taught chemistry for 30 years, wowed the students with science experiments. Having served as a professor for over 20 years at Iowa Lakes Community College, Doc brought his expertise to the first graders to have some fun and generate excitement about STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
After a brief introduction by Scarlett, Doc’s granddaughter and student in Mrs. Griffin’s class, students were handed gloves and googles to wear throughout their time together. While they worked to get their safety gear on, Doc shared that he has been interested in science from a young age when he received a chemistry set, dissecting kit and microscope for his 6th birthday. He has loved exploring the world of science, and said, “Science helps you understand stuff. Everything you can think of is science in some way.”
One of the reasons why science is so fun and exciting is because things change, and one example of this can be seen by analyzing colors. Science causes things to have different colors, and the students got to experiment with the process called chromatography, the separation of colors. Doc put a large dot of what appeared to be dark blue dye, taken from M&Ms, on chromatography paper. He then added salt water to the beakers, and the students crumpled up the chromatography paper and put it into the salt water. The dye separated into all of the colors that had been blended together to make up the color of the M&M, and as the students watched the process unfold, Doc said, “This is what science is all about. It is observing things and recognizing what you observe. Science helps you describe what you just observed. A whole bunch of colors go together to make one color. If you have a black pen, your black pen, even though it looks black, has ink that is a combination of different colors.
The students were absolutely riveted by the results of each of the experiments to follow, learning about the process of forming exchange and imprint fossils, magnetic metals found in substances like putty, and rocks. Doc showed students how to identify stones by putting them under a black light and how silver and gold look in their natural state.
As each experiment unfolded, Doc asked questions and wanted the thoughts and opinions of the students. “That’s where science starts,” Doc added. “We have to guess what is going to happen, and then see what really happens. Then we have to see what is the difference between the two, and use science to describe what really happened.”
Doc shared that he loves working with salt, vinegar and sodium bicarbonate because they are relatively safe, and several of the remaining experiments utilized these elements. Students learned that oil and water don’t mix and that sometimes the changes involved in chemistry are visible and sometimes they aren’t. They also learned that certain elements can create a reaction when mixed together and can cause hot and cold, as with ice packs.
Nearing the end of the experiments, one student asked Doc why he wanted to become a scientist, and he responded, “I wanted to become a scientist mostly because it was something my dad was interested in, and as a little boy I wanted to be just like my dad. Then when I got into the science itself, I realized that it helped me understand things. There is nothing that I need to know that science can’t teach me. It gives me life’s secrets.”