Aquarium helps kids dive into science

Published: Sunday, Sept. 20 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

Fourth-graders at Bluffdale Elementary in Riverton learn about the water cycle as they look over display brought to the school by the Living Planet Aquarium's Utah Waters Van.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

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MURRAY — It was a beautiful day in Salt Lake City — the sun was shining, the clouds looked tame — until, that is, the fourth grade at Longview Elementary got involved.

"On the count of three," commanded their instructor, "I want you to make it rain."

And they did.

The 9-year-olds puckered up their lips and blew. They blew and blew and blew so hard that the wispy water vapor collecting over the topographic model they huddled around morphed into a dangerous-looking storm cloud, smashed into a miniature version of the Rocky Mountains and unleashed a downpour.

The children called it "cool."

The Living Planet Aquarium, which carts these Lilliputian versions of the Salt Lake Valley to elementary schools as part of its community outreach program, called it a lesson on the water cycle.

"A lot of schools can't afford to bring the kids to the aquarium on a field trip, so we bring a piece of the aquarium to the kids," said Kelly Steffen, director of education for the Living Planet Aquarium in Sandy.

Aquarium employees pack vans, decorated with murals of Utah scenery, full of models, science experiments and animals, and drive from school to school bookmobile style. Presenters discuss the water cycle, rainforests and Utah's wetlands with children.

"It's great because it goes right along with the curriculum," said Alli Meyer, a first-year teacher at Longview Elementary. "But this is so much more hands-on than anything I could do in class. I just don't have the resources."

This year, the Utah Waters Vans will stop by 470 schools. Steffen said she hopes the vans' visits will get kids hooked on science.

"Schools are focusing so much on reading and math these days," she said. "We just want to make sure kids have opportunities to get excited about science."

The children at Longview Elementary were certainly pumped about the Living Planet Aquarium crew.

"I never knew the sun can turn water into gas," said Paul Dominguez, 9, after he and his friends took turns pretending to be the sun and the wind during a demonstration. "That is so cool."

Morgan Smith, 9, was fascinated by the snake and salamander aquarium that instructors brought in.

"It's easier to learn about stuff when you can see it and feel it," Morgan said after giving a garter snake a two-fingered stroke. "Sometimes when the teacher just tells you stuff, you don't get it."

Although they weren't as wide-eyed when presenters showed children how water can produce electricity, the children's teachers seemed to enjoy, at least, sitting back and taking a breather while the Living Planet Aquarium took over.

"This is absolutely fantastic," Tina Nilsson said as she watcher her fourth-grade class doing the "water-cycle dance." "They get teacher deaf, so it's nice to have someone else doing the talking."

e-mail: estuart@desnews.com

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