Posted on Aug 1, 2000

Chemistry Professor Charles Scaife and his wife, Priscilla, have been traveling the country, sowing seeds of scientific discovery. They recently visited the Pacific Northwest, and Susan Marcolina '80, who remembers taking Chemistry I from Scaife in 1976, sends along this account of his visit.

“My father always told me that every teacher should be required to tend a garden, because then they would have all the skills needed to inspire students” says Charles Scaife. It is evident to anyone watching him and his wife, Priscilla, teach their “Hands on Science” workshops that they have both become master gardeners.

Students at Issaquah Valley (Wash.) Elementary, Apollo Elementary, and Briarwood Elementary were the Scaifes' eager pupils during the week of May 22-26. Scaife and his wife draw upon his extensive scientific research and teaching experience — along with a few simple, inexpensive, commonly used materials — to present some very high powered concepts and ideas in a format that is both exciting and fun.

He used an old umbrella in the fourth grade class to illustrate location of the Big Dipper and planetary motion. He had the students skewer balloons without popping them as he illustrated the properties of polymers. He played “Mary had a Little Lamb” on a meter stick to illustrate harmonics for a teacher's seminar. In a kindergarten class, he used a “Vis a Vis” marker and coffee filters to illustrate chromatography and incorporated some storytelling into the experimental process with a Lenape Indian Children's Legend called Rainbow Crow.

Scaife and his wife Priscilla routinely incorporate children's literature and safety instruction throughout their workshops. The children learn about the scientific method, develop their reading and writing skills, and become critical thinkers. What they have shown the children is that science incorporates all of these skills and is really lots of fun.

His Family Science Night brings children, parents, and their teachers together for the common goal of learning scientific principles. It involves parents and children cooperatively interacting to come up with an explanation of what they observe in the experiments. The teacher seminars help teachers develop ideas to introduce scientific principles into their curriculum. The teachers are also given resources that will help them develop science programs on many different topics.

Charles (who is on sabbatical this year) and Priscilla received grants from both the National Science Foundation and the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation to take their Hands on Science Program nationally. They had visited every state on the perimeter of the continental United States except Rhode Island and New Jersey. To date, they have put about 25,000 miles on their “Science Mobile”, leaving a legacy of eager students, teachers, and parents.