Recently US students ranked 17th in science compared with 34 other developed countries, according to the 2009 program for International Student Assessment. The United States has been falling behind in the essential subjects of math and science, and according to The New York Times, students’ lack of interest in these subjects is one of the main reasons for the decline. Nicole Belnap is working to change that situation by making science fun.
Belnap graduated from the McKay School in 1999 with a BA in physics education. After graduation she taught high school science and math classes, but now she is a hard-working stay-at-home mom of five children. Belnap stays involved in education by volunteering at schools and educational events. “I love being involved with hands-on science,” Belnap said. “It is the very reason I went into physics.”
Belnap enjoys interactive projects that get students excited about science. She has volunteered to do hands-on science at the elementary school her children attend. “It is so fun to show up at the elementary school and have the kids say things like ‘Oh a real scientist is here to teach,’” Belnap said. “I think when students recognize everyday applications, they can get excited about science at a very early age.”
Capturing students’ attention at an early age is important in teaching science because increased interest results in increased learning. Belnap works to get students engaged in science not only by teaching in classrooms, but also by volunteering at science camps. This past summer Belnap volunteered at the Science and Engineering Camp, a two-day event at Utah State University’s Uintah Basin campus that offered more than 60 students the chance to learn science in interesting ways.
At the camp, Belnap worked at the Angry Birds station. “We let the kids launch water balloons from a big slingshot to learn Galileo’s principles,” Belnap said. “It was so much fun to let the kids solve how to adjust their slingshot to hit a target of their choice. I have to brag a little because my group actually did hit their target: the news guy running a story on the camp.”
Hitting a target is an accomplishment because students had to experiment launching at different angles, changing the tensions, and making sure that the weight of the water balloons was just right. However, what was most important was that the students were having fun. “They were excited that they had the option to try and hit a target,” Belnap said. “They were so engaged in their projects that they began asking questions that allowed us to show them the geometry that applied to the slingshots.”
For Belnap the camp was “a great experience.” She got to take her children with her, engage students in science, and do what she loves to do: teach hands-on. “Hands-on learning cannot be duplicated in any way. The students were making connections that would not have been made without seeing the water balloons shot,” Belnap said. “I was so grateful to help, and I have already volunteered to be involved in next summer’s Science and Engineering Camp.”
Belnap, her husband, Trevor, and their five children currently reside in Altamont, Utah.