Glycerin, cornstarch and water. It’s a simple recipe, but Jason is well on his way to making bioplastics.
“I do make a lot of things and I like experimenting and building and seeing what I can come up with,” said the eighth-grader about his environmentally friendly creation.
Jason was one of several students who recently attended an after-school program hosted by ExplorOcean. The nonprofit, located in Newport Beach, works with students to create interactive experiences about the natural wonders of the ocean. Students learn about underwater robotics, computer programming and how to mitigate ocean debris.
The STEM (science, technology, engineering and math)-focused classes are supported in part by corporate donations, including a recent $3,400 donation from Edison International. The grant will be used to fund ExplorOcean’s Innovation Showcase, a program that allows students to create their own inventions.
“We give the kids the tools and space to create. We follow their lead,” said Dr. Wendy Marshall, ExplorOcean director of education and public programs. “We allow kids to experiment … and to fail. Sometimes things don’t work and that is OK.
“Developing these skills are important in creating students who have the confidence and dispositions to be successful in school, and in life.”
The Innovation Showcase for middle-school students will focus on the basic concepts related to electricity. Starting with a simple electrical circuit, the students will eventually build their own inventions and showcase them in June.
Some of the showcase activities will include creating a greeting card with a light-up bulb. Next, they will build a motor for a fan. They also will learn to add a light and motor to a boat model.
The ExplorOcean activities are part of the nonprofit’s efforts to replace the traditional science fair with a more interactive, hands-on experience. In their underwater robotics programs, the kids learn soldering and waterproofing. In their making of plant-based plastics, the students learn about polymers and chemical engineering.
“I got to make different bioplastics out of the different materials I got and they turned out pretty well,” said Kenny, 13, who took part in a recent class.
Parents welcome the exposure their children get to careers in science and engineering.
“In a society that puts so much emphasis on sports and entertainment as career paths, it is difficult to expose our kids to something like being a researcher or educator, and make those professions seem appealing,” said Ken Gordon, whose kids Auggie and Tico recently participated in ExplorOcean’s activities.
“Yesterday, the children saw scientists, researchers and educators … doing what they love. That is the kind of connection that will get the wheels turning in their heads.”
Schools interested in partnering with ExplorOcean’s Innovation Showcase program can call (949) 675-8915.