Fifty sugar-saturated 10-year-olds sit on the floor of Solon's Roxbury Elementary School cafeteria, each straining to get a better view of the series of explosions, levitations and gooey concoctions in front of them. Yes, after a full day of school and with the weekend right around the corner, these kids are hypnotized by scientific principles in action.
Parents can thank Ben Bartman, owner of the Cleveland franchise of Mad Science, which he started three years ago after being laid off from B.F. Goodrich. He and his 20 staff members stage 30 shows a week to captivated kids across Greater Cleveland with an itinerary that includes school assemblies, summer camps and birthday parties.
"We enable children to get excited about science and not be turned off to it, so as they grow older their perception of science is a positive one," Bartman says. Or, as Mad Science instructor Cora Lee Mooney pointedly puts it, "[Mad Science] makes it cool to be a geek."
The Roxbury Elementary fifth-graders, for example, are learning the difference between liquids and gases. Then, after reciting the "I will not play with fire oath," they watch as the demonstrator mixes a concoction in a beaker that ends with a finale of blue flames shooting out the top.
Bartman says programs such as Mad Science, originally founded in Montreal in 1986, can have a lasting impact on society by presenting science in a fun and interactive way. Instructors all deliver their shows as their Mad Scientist alter egos with names such as "Looney Lauren" and "Nutty Nate" to help keep the kids' attention throughout each step of their demonstrations.
"I still get a charge every time I do the experiments with the kids," Bartman says.
Mooney, who doubles as a philosophy instructor at John Carroll University when she's not in character as one of Bartman's mad scientists, says teaching the principles covered in the show to grade-school students was tougher than she thought it would be when she signed up for the job.
"You know right away if the kids liked the demonstration," she says. "It's an immediate reward."
Though the school year is winding down, Mad Science is gearing up for its next busy season. Bartman's company will run several weeklong camps this summer for both preschool and school-aged kids. For more information and details about how to sign up your young Einstein, visit www.madscience.org/cleveland.
Ben Bartman's Mad Science summer camps aren't the only off-season education option for the kids.
We found some other out-of-the-ordinary day camps set to start after the final school bell rings.
Lights, Camera, Memories: The Progressive Arts Alliance and Judson at University Circle will teach young filmmakers the basics of the craft with their "Music of My Mind" program. Each participant will create a documentary film based on interviews they conduct with Judson residents about the music of their youth. The intergenerational program is for teens entering grades eight through 12 and will give them hands-on experience with equipment used by filmmakers. Weekdays June 13 through July 1, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. (216) 556-0337 www.paalive.org
Wild Things: From African drum circles to up-close encounters with animals, the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo's series of weeklong summer day camps allow kids to create, explore and learn on the zoo grounds. Aimed at ages 5 through 12, both half- and full-day options are available. Weeklong camps run June 13 through Aug. 15, 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. (half day) or 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (full day). (216) 661-6500 www.clemetzoo.com
Croquet Anyone? Baseball may be the national pastime, but Akron's Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens promises to expose the young ones to the finer points of lawn bowling and other old-time games at its "Vintage Sports Summer Day Camp." Kids ages 8 through 12 are offered a crack at croquet and other civilized games, but the highlight of this perennial weeklong camp is learning "vintage baseball," and all the rules that go along with it, from Stan Hywet's own 1860s-era Akron Black Stockings and Lady Locks. July 12 through 16, 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. (330) 315-3205 www.stanhywet.org