Little Shop of Physics teaches science in annual open house

Ravyn Cullor

At first glance, the Little Shop of Physics Open House may look like hoards of little kids playing with stuff, but it’s actually an exhibition of their science education philosophy.

Saturday marked the 28th annual LSOP Open House with upwards of 300 hands-on kid-friendly science experiments taking over most of the third floor of the Lory Student Center. This year’s event also featured 10 science partners, including the CSU Chemistry Club, Century Link and the Denver Broncos.

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When the Open House began in the 1990s, it was an intermission to a physics bowl competition which was held on the last Saturday of every February. LSOP Director Brian Jones saw a divide between how K-12 students were being taught science and how they wanted to learn it.

“Brian went to Windsor Middle School and did a lecture…and said it was the worst thing that could have ever happened,” said Assistant Director Heather Michalak. “They were passing notes, talking and not paying attention. He had brought some hands-on stuff for them to explore and he let them explore in the last 10-15 minutes of the time that he was there and he realized that’s what they like. This is what they want to do.”

From toddlers playing with the rainbow effect a magnet has on an old television set, to kids bouncing durable bubbles, to adults asking volunteers how experiments work, patrons at the Open House seemed engaged in the kind of science education LSOP promotes.

“This is definitely a better way for kids to learn science,” said Jessica Johnson, a teacher who brought her three kids, ranging in age from 3 months to 5-years-old. “Where they’re engaged and they’re excited and they get to put their hands on and participate, they learn the most.”

For Bridget Greuel, a senior studying biology with a minor in chemistry, interacting with the families is the best part of the open house. She said that she knows the event has been a success with the kids by the smiles on their faces.

Michalak said, with around 10,000 visitors, the LSOP Open House is the biggest academic event on campus and has become synonymous with their name.

“I feel more excitement on Open House than I ever did on Christmas day when I was a kid,” Michalek said.

This year the LSOP wanted to make their existing experiments even more engaging, Michalak said.

“We’ve taken and retooled over 15 of our hands-on experiments and taken things that were kind of cool, which were made 20 years ago, and making them just mind-blowing where kids look at it and go ‘what!?’” she said.

Beyond the educational value for patrons of the Open House, Michalak and Jones feel undergraduates who intern with the LSOP get value out of the event as well.

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“A piece that I feel is really broken right now in our society is the ability for scientists to convey why what they are doing is so exciting,” Michalak said. “I think this helps the undergraduates be better scientists in the long run.”

Jones wrote in an email to The Collegian that as he walks through the Open House he enjoys seeing interns and volunteers talking with kids and adults about science.

“The students’ energy, enthusiasm, creative ideas, and willingness to engage the public makes this event what it is,” Jones wrote.

Ravyn Cullor can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @RCullor99.