Uni students inspire the next generation with hands-on science lessons at Bonita Canyon

We met up with Kevin Chung mid-lesson at Bonita Canyon Elementary School, and he politely offered to shake our hand another time — when it wasn’t covered with a goopy blend of water and cornstarch.

Chung was in the middle of leading a science experiment on non-Newtonian fluids, demonstrating to students how the aforementioned mixture acts momentarily as a solid. But Chung is not a teacher. He’s a sophomore from nearby University High School.

The 16-year-old recently started a club at Uni called Science for the Next Generation, or SNG, and its goal is to pique the scientific interests of younger kids by offering engaging, hands-on science lessons. On March 7, he and about a half-dozen SNG members were doing just that at Bonita Canyon, where roughly 15 fifth- and sixth-graders had signed up for the after-school experiments.

“I’m loving this,” said Chung. “When they go ‘Whoa!’ it’s like a whole new feeling.”

And there were plenty of “whoa” moments on this afternoon. Outside at the B.C. lunch tables, the younger kids were excitedly observing the properties of their newly created batch of non-Newtonian fluid. In a bungalow a few feet away, their classmates were getting a lesson on the structural integrity of triangles and squares using uncooked spaghetti and marshmallows to build towers. (Triangles, as it turns out, are much more stable.) A third experiment showed them how adding a small amount of a given substance can dramatically change a solution’s appearance.

“It’s just a fun way to learn about science,” offered Harper, 12. The Bonita Canyon sixth-grader added that it was pretty cool to be taught by high schoolers.

“Because they’re also kids, you can relate to them,” she said.

On hand to observe and assist was their regular science teacher, Mr. Chuck Nelson, who praised the Uni volunteers for stoking the interest of their younger counterparts.

“They get tired of hearing from me all the time,” Mr. Nelson quipped, before adding, “We’re just happy to let our kids do this.”