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Ursinus College Keeps Science in Motion

The educational program may be in danger of slowing down due to lack of funding.

Ron Faust works as a Mobile Educator in the Science in Motion program at Ursinus College. In travelling from school to school, he never tires in taking pleasure showing how science is magical.

He paid a recent visit to Arcola Intermediate School in Methacton School District, where students were amazed at the properties of nanotechnology. Nanotech is the manipulation of molecules, which each student explained in a class presentation using diverse nanotech products of today.

“If you’re looking for a job, nanotechnology is the future,” Faust said.

One student picked up an ordinary-looking tennis ball, only to reveal that its inner-core was coated with a nanotech chemical so it won’t easily lose its bounce.

Another student presented odor-eating socks, which have been sewn with nano-particles.

Amanda Amornwichet, Arcola Intermediate eight-grade student, presented two nearly identical button-down shirts and a bowl of water.

She dipped one of the shirts in, soaking it, and making her classmates giggle. But their giggles quickly turned to impressed smiles, when the other shirt came up dripping but bone dry.

“It repels it because it’s hydrophobic,” Amanda said, further explaining that the shirt contains air trapped by nano-fiber whiskers. 

After the class, Amanda said that she and her fellow classmates really enjoy it when Science in Motion stops by for a visit.

“I don’t get to do this a lot,” she said. “Mr. Faust makes it interesting.” 

Science in Motion

Faust, Phoenixville resident and a retired Biology teacher, taught for nearly 40 years at Cat Pickering High School in Phoenixville and at Downingtown High School, respectively.

While retired, Faust said that he didn’t want to give up teaching, and found the Science in Motion program at Ursinus College. He has been with the program for the last nine years.

An Ursinus faculty member, and two mobile educators staff the Science in Motion program at Ursinus.

Faust teaches programs dealing with Biology while his fellow mobile educator teaches chemistry and physical science programs.

Ursinus is a member of the Pennsylvania Basic Education/Higher Education Science and Technology Partnership, a consortium of 12 colleges and universities throughout the state that run Science in Motion programs.

According to the Science in Motion website, the program was started in 1987 out of Juniata College. Since then, the participating colleges and universities have served over 300 school districts and thousands of students throughout the Commonwealth.

According to Faust, the Ursinus College-sponsored Science in Motion serves school districts in Chester, Berks and Montgomery counties. Out of those 26 school districts, the Mobile educators travel to at least seven in Montgomery County.

According to Faust, Science in Motion provides teachers with the lessons and laboratory equipment kits to supplement their curriculum.

He said that the lessons are already prepared for the teacher, and that the mobile educator could either lead the class or assist the teacher and ensure the functionality of the equipment.

Speaking as a former science teacher, Faust said that having prepared material saves the teacher valuable research and preparation time, as the lessons often include advanced experiments and concepts.

Teachers are also invited to summer Science in Motion workshops at Ursinus College.

Faust also emphasized that one of the key components to the Science in Motion program is that it saves school districts from having to purchase the necessary laboratory equipment in order to conduct the lessons and experiments.

Faust explained that schools may opt to hold onto desired laboratory equipment, and then share such equipment with participating Science in Motion schools on a rotating basis throughout the school year.

According to the Ursinus College Science in Motion website, such equipment includes:

  • Digital Microscopes
  • Gas Sensors
  •  Forensics Materials
  • Solar Cells
  • Lab Chemicals
  • Motion Detectors

Faust said that at least $160,000 worth of equipment is stored at Ursinus College for the Science in Motion program. He said that the participating Science in Motion colleges and universities collected such equipment over the years through an annual $2-million grant from the state.

According to the Science in Motion website, a school looking to provide similar resources and training as provided by Science in Motion programs is estimated at $25-million.

Patty McGinnis, Gifted Support Specialist at Methacton School District, strongly supports the program. She said Arcola Intermediate was one of the first middle schools to invite Science in Motion.

“It gives kids a hands-on experience with equipment that they normally wouldn’t touch until college,” McGinnis said.

She added that the importance of such an experience won’t just be beneficial for students.

“The country is in dire need for scientists and engineers, because the current population is entering retirement, and there’s not enough people filling in those jobs,” McGinnis said. “We need to push science courses, and this is the way to do it.”

Disappearing Act

According to the 2011-2012 Pennsylvania Basic Education/Higher Education Science and Technology Partnership annual service report (the latest offered on the Science in Motion website), the program is having trouble over sustaining the level of service in recent years, due to financial restraints.

The report states that the Commonwealth’s economic hardships resulted in budget restrictions and funding delays that year, also noting that the year prior, grant funding had already been cut by 63-percent.

This has resulted in the delay of service to schools and a reduction to a college or university’s service area.

At the start of this fiscal year, Faust said that funding has been completely cut, and the Ursinus College Science in Motion staff is no longer paid. However, he, the director and fellow mobile educator remain on staff as volunteers. 

“This is a shining moment in education history,” Faust said of the Science in Motion program. “But, if no one will do anything about it, it will be gone.”

Due to the financial restraints, such as out-of-pocket travelling expenses, Faust said that the number of schools he can visit will lesson, although the demand for their services will not.

The annual report stated that Science in Motion has sought alternative funding, and has reached out to such organizations as Change the Equation (CTE). As described by the report, CTE is a nonprofit, nonpartisan initiative that mobilizes the business community to “improve the quality of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).”

However, Faust is also encouraging the schools he visits to still reach out to their local legislators and explain what Science in Motion means to their community, and also encourages local business leaders to find out more about the program.

He said he is hopeful that a champion will arise to continue the work he continues to enjoy, even after a 40-year career teaching science.

“We don’t make kids smarter, we make them inspired to go into science,” Faust said. “I think it’s a privilege for me to do that.”

For more information, visit the Science in Motion at Ursinus College website.

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