CSU brings science ‘wows’ to Todos Santos school children

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Now, hundreds more students can look at the world through rainbow-colored glasses. This January, the College of Natural Sciences’ outreach group the Little Shop of Physics traveled to the Colorado State University Todos Santos Center in Baja California Sur, Mexico, to spread their enthusiasm for science.

The group landed in Mexico with seven people – and eight trunks that held more than 60 hands-on science experiments developed in their campus lab. And those kits were put to good use. In just four days, the group worked with more than 1,000 students from a dozen schools in Todos Santos and the nearby town of Pescadero – in addition to members of the local community at two open public events.

Brian Jones and kids in Mexico
Little Shop of Physics director Brian Jones talks to local students in Baja California Sur, Mexico.

And they clearly made an impact. “Whenever we were about town, we were recognized by students, parents, and teachers,” said Adam Pearlstein, assistant director of Little Shop of Physics. “They would come up to us and share what they had discovered with their lentes arco iris (rainbow glasses).”

View more photos of the trip here.

Universal language

Working across cultures is nothing new for the Little Shop of Physics. The group has brought their science show on the road across the country, to American Indian reservations, and even to Africa. So they already know, as Pearlstein put it, that “there is the universal ‘wow’ factor – when a kid’s face lights up when they discover something new.” And Todos Santos proved no different. When working with students there, he said, “their entire face would light up, and they would instantly shout to their friends across the room to share what they had learned.”

Although some of the Little Shop crew members are fluent in Spanish, Pearlstein and others were working with a more limited vocabulary. Nevertheless, he said, when engaging with the students over the science experiments, it almost didn’t matter. “Much of science is its own universal language.”

Brian Jones, the director of Little Shop of Physics, echoed this sentiment. “My not being able to launch into detailed explanations actually makes the experience a better one for the students – they need to work things out for themselves. They do, and then they really own it,” he said. “It’s been good to remember that learning is something students do – that our job is to facilitate this.”

Learning about learning

The local students in Mexico were not the only ones who learned a lot during the Little Shop visit. “Working in another culture is a great way to test your understanding of how people learn – what aspects are common to all cultures, what elements are culturally specific,” said Jones. “The students in the schools here are very creative, very curious, and it’s been very enlightening to work with them.”

The Little Shop group also included two CSU students who are interested in science education. “It was a great experience for the undergraduate students who were part of this trip,” Jones said.

Future collaboration

Little Shop will likely learn more in the future. And maybe even a little more Spanish, too. The group and the College of Natural Sciences aim to create a long-term partnership for Little Shop with the permanent CSU international outpost and the surrounding community. “My hope for this trip is that it is the start of a wonderful cross-cultural collaboration,” Jones said. “Having the chance to do outreach on an international scale is a real treat. We are very fortunate to have the CSU Todos Santos Center to work with – they’ve done an excellent job.”

Little Shop’s involvement at the CSU Todos Santos Center is part of the college’s broader goals for science outreach. Jan Nerger, dean of the College of Natural Sciences saw the potential for collaboration and initiated this first visit to explore the possibilities for future outreach.

Nerger’s vision has already transformed into a natural and fertile relationship. “This way of doing science – stressing inquiry, engagement, curiosity – was a real hit with the students and teachers” there, Jones said. He and the rest of the Little Shop of Physics are energized to return. And the welcome mat has already been extended. As Pearlstein noted, “One of the teachers made a very touching speech saying we were always welcome in Todos Santos, and he ended it by giving the entire crew handshakes and hugs.”

About the CSU Todos Santos Center

The Colorado State University Todos Santos Center is the university’s first international location and is core to CSU’s mission of teaching, research, service, and outreach. The Center provides opportunities for CSU students and Baja California Sur residents to collaborate with local partners and businesses to identify needs, conduct research, and produce impactful outcomes. CSU’s vision in Todos Santos is to cultivate generations of global citizens and to be a part of creating thriving communities through collaboration, experience, and exchange of knowledge in areas such as agriculture, infectious disease, elementary education, environmental and social sustainability, wildlife ecology, veterinary medicine, and public health.