Science On Wheels

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Not just in the lab: youth experimenting science in their classroom












The storm is at its peak. Heavy raindrops are beating against the windows as the van climbs up the winding mountain road. The powerful engine roars, and the fast-moving windshield wipers reveal a gray hilly landscape. Fog is wrapped around the mountaintop where the driver, Dan Nutman, is headed; but for the car's passengers there's nothing foggy about the purpose of their trip. The staff of Madanoa, the science education van operated by the Weizmann Institute's Youth Activities Section headed by Dan Peri, knows that over the mountaintop, in the Upper Galilean Druze village of Mrar, nearly one hundred youngsters are expecting them.

Another turn, another groan of the engine, and the large van has already passed the village's first houses, circled the main square, driven along a street flanked by two torrential streams of water, and reached the community center. Nazam Siran, head of the center's activities is waiting at the entrance. 'I knew you wouldn't disappoint us,' he says, breaking into a broad smile beneath his large mustache. 'After your success here last year, I simply knew you would make it again, despite the storm.'

Rather appropriately, the first lecture the youths hear this morning has to do with thunder and lightning. The wide windows provide a perfect view as the storms plays out its fury. Later, they watch and participate in the process of glass-making under Nutman's direction.

The Madanoa van is equipped with science education exhibits and teaching aids that can be transported and set up in classrooms and school courtyards as well as in community centers. Some of Madanoa's teaching items are simplified versions of exhibits found in the Clore Garden of Science, the Weizmann Institute's award-winning outdoor science museum. The approach is simple: to make it possible to touch, feel, and try out natural and physical phenomena, making learning effective and fun.

using models to make the various concepts easier to understand.

First created in 1994, the goal of Madanoa is to offer this unique learning experience in relatively remote places, where the teachers and students can't pay regular visits to large city museums, universities, or research centers. Madanoa's instructors also work in the Weizmann Institute's Youth Activities Section and in the Clore Garden of Science. Thus, for example, when instructor Hila Dotan explains to Mrar youngsters about climatic phenomena such as wind and lightning, she uses models that she's brought along to make the various concepts easier to understand.

After the lecture, students Sahar and Reja share their impressions: 'It was really interesting. This is a lecture from life, unlike our usual classes, which are based on books. It's fun to understand what's happening right where you are - the mystery behind thunder, lightning, rain and other powerful forces of nature.'