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Burlington Science Center ‘vacation experiment’ sustains thrill of learning

Burlington Public Schools’ students are about to learn more ways in which science colors their world.

Each year, Burlington Science Center educators send all district elementary students home with an experiment of their own to test over winter break, and this year, children will see how light plays a role in changing the colors of “solar beads.”

Wendy Pavlicek, director and animal curator at the center, said each student in kindergarten through 5th-grade received "solar beads" to take home and create whichever crafts they’d like to make with them, such as keychains and bracelets. These beads, made with UV-sensitive plastic, illuminate with different colors based on their surroundings, she said.

What that means, Pavlicek said, students will find out for themselves by experimenting with light and their surroundings inside and outside, and watching the beads turn into colors of the rainbow. Students don’t merely go home with a bag of beads - they also take home an information sheet about the science behind the changing colors, and investigative questions they can fill out as they observe the materials, she said.

To roll out the experiment, Burlington Science Center educators including Pavlicek, Sean Musselman, science specialist and Charolette Hogan, assistant, produced and posted a video to inform the children about some things they can expect, acting out scenes to pull young students in.

The purpose of the experiment “giveaway,” Pavlicek said, is to,“keep those who are curious interested in finding out about the world around us, giving them a wonderful experience to have at home with their families and to talk a little bit about science and what’s happening around them every day. We hope that keeps them in a ‘scientist’ mind over the vacation.”

She said educators ask students to verbally share their findings with them, which happens from pure excitement - not because they are tasked with an assignment. Pavlicek said this particular experiment was chosen to portray seasonal changes right around the winter solstice, when daylight and how that relates to “day time hours” shifts.  

“We’re passionate about science, and we want kids to be passionate about science,” she said.

Burlington Science Center educators, she said, want children to know, “Science is life, and it’s all around us … to really think like a scientist and look at phenomena around the world, you’ll learn some pretty amazing things.”