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Westview senior shares joys of science with eager elementary school students

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Chris Younkins, 18, a senior at Westview High School, helps Giselle Miranda and Trung Pham combine ingredients to make a rubber ball in his Science Stars program at McKay Elementary School.   Chris Younkins may not be an experienced teacher, but he clearly knows a thing or two about how to kick off an after-school science lesson for young elementary school students.

“This week we’re going to make bouncy balls,” he said to a group of five third-graders at McKay Elementary School last Thursday. “Does anybody have any idea what a bouncy ball is made of?”

With the children firing off responses such as “Rubber!” and “Everybody knows it!” Younkins is off and running. A brief, interactive discussion with the children about polymers, atom chains and cause-and-effect principles leads to a clear hypothesis: If the ball is made too hard, it will shatter. If it’s too soft, it’ll stick to the ground and not bounce.

With Younkins providing bowls and ingredients including hunks of clay, corn- starch, glue and Borax, the students’ eager fingers quickly get gooey as they coax some semblance of a bounce-able ball from the concoction. As the lesson ended, the kids joyously dropped the balls from the top of the stairwell to test the outcomes.by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Chris Younkins, 18, a senior at Westview High School, writes down the day's science project of making rubber balsl for the children in his Science Stars program at McKay Elementary School.

A senior at Westview High School, Younkins, 18, visits McKay each week through his “Science Stars” program. With help from volunteer high school students and cooperation from elementary school teachers and administrators, Younkins provides engaging, supplemental science lessons to as many as 21 students at a time in six elementary schools in the Beaverton district. The schools, which also include Findley, Rock Creek, Sexton Mountain, McKinley and Kinnaman, many of them Title I-A schools catering to students from lower-income families.

Junior scientists

With approval from their parents, students choose to sign up for the 45- to 60-minute lessons, which a regular teacher from the elementary school supervises.

McKay Elementary Principal Megan Clifford said there’s no shortage of interest from her students in the Science Stars program.

“You can see how excited they are,” she said. “The first 20 or so kids who signed up got to do it. They’ve just been a great group. There’s quite a level of engagement.”

A Rock Creek resident, Younkins first nurtured his extracurricular science habit by tutoring fifth-graders at Rock Creek Elementary School when he was a Westview sophomore. Noticing the after-school daycare center there on his way in and out of the building, the scientifically oriented teen wondered if even younger students might benefit from fun, hands-on science lessons.

“I just contacted schools all around the district,” he said. “I figured not many would respond, but one in every two schools responded. A lot of them already had after-school stuff.”

Armed with reassurance and inspiration from YouTube and other online sources, Younkins started developing engaging approaches to beginning science instruction.

“I’d come up with a scientific experiment to get the kids to enjoy science,” he said. “I feel like a lot of kids don’t like it, and I think that’s kind of a shame.”

In addition to the bouncy-ball experiment, Younkins’ lessons have involved making slime and mini-rockets fueled by water and Alka-Seltzer in tiny vials.

“I guess the more hands-on activity, the more excited they get,” Younkins said. “Especially with things they’ve never heard of before, like the rockets.”

Clifford sees Science Stars as a complement to an after-school program in which Jesuit High School students and Americorps volunteers work with fourth- and fifth-graders struggling with reading and mathematics.

“There are only so many hours in the day,” she notes. “It’s hard to fit in as much science as we’d like to. Science reinforces math skills, reading skills and thinking skills, their ability to ask questions and think about how things work. It helps them explore that kind of thinking.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Third-grader Lilly Galvin watches her rubber ball evolve during the Science Stars program at McKay Elementary School.

Maureen Schulz, whose third- grade classroom Younkins fleetingly turned into a bouncy-ball factory, said Younkins’ lessons help prepare students for the increased emphasis on science and engineering learning they will face as their secondary education progresses.

“You capitalize on what they love, and kids love hands-on scientific inquiry,” she said. “It’s just been nice having (Chris) this year. It’s a great program for the kids. You can see how much fun they’re having.”

Younkins anticipates the Science Stars program carrying on well past his graduation from Westview this spring.

“I’m here for the rest of the school year,” he said, noting his own future plans remain in a fluid state. “Next year, when I’m off to college or whatever, I’ll probably have the volunteers I’m working with, who are sophomores and juniors. I’ll kind of pass it off to them.”

For now, there’s next week’s lesson plan to think about.

“The next lesson I’m thinking will involve measuring dry ice, and adding cold and warm water to see how much gas it makes,” he said. “It will be in bottles, though, so it will be safe.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Zach Lord bounces his rubber ball he made as Sydney Reynolds works on hers during the Science Stars program at McKay Elementary School.

The way the ball bounces

After the five McKay Elementary students in Chris Younkins’ Science Stars class had whipped their substances into ball shapes last Thursday afternoon, they tested their bounce-ability from the top of the staircase outside the classroom.

Using a yardstick, Younkins measured the bounce of each ball and quizzed students on what ingredient could have been added or subtracted to improve the performance.

“Why do you think it stuck to the floor?” he asked of one student, who responded, “Too much glue!”

Third-grader Trung Pham said his favorite project so far was the rocket experiment.

“That’s what’s interesting to me about science,” he said. “Just thinking I could do that.”

Sydney Reynolds likes the lessons because “you just have fun and learn science: how to make stuff like bouncy balls and slime.”

Zach Lord stays after school so he can “learn lots of different science things,” he said. “We have fun, and my friends are here.”

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