Jen Hazzard turned a gummy bear into a fireball …
For the last week, Hazzard — an Amsterdam graduate who teaches high school chemistry and physics at Gloversville — has been filming science experiments and posting them on her YouTube page to help give kids — and parents who’ve been turned into unexpected home school instructors — a little science instruction while stuck at home with schools closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hazzard stepped up to fill the void when she saw people on social media looking for help with at-home science lessons and rarely seeing anything truly helpful.
“At the very most,” she said, “they would say, ‘mix some vinegar and baking soda.’”
Actually, Hazzard did that tried-and-true experiment, too, but only to demonstrate the difference between the reaction when mixing vinegar with baking soda and mixing it with baking powder.
On the whole, she wanted something more to engage both kids and parents.
“As a science teacher who really loves not only science, but their job in general, it was kind of sad just to sit back and watch that happen,” Hazzard said. “The opportunity just kind of presented itself out of wanting better for these kids while they’re at home. It’s not the parents’ fault. Most people don’t just know what to do for a science lesson off-the-cuff. I’m sure they could’ve researched different things, but everyone’s got so much they’re dealing with all at once … I wanted to kind of offer them a one-stop shop.”
Some of Hazzard’s videos, like building your own conductivity meter or trying different methods to prevent mold on fruits and vegetables, are designed as experiments that kids and their parents can try together at home.
Others, like the aforementioned gummy bear fireball — a chemical reaction created by dropping the candy into a test tube with a liquid ionic solution at the bottom — are strictly don’t-try-this-at-home demos done in the safety of Hazzard’s lab classroom at Gloversville.
The descriptions of Hazzard’s videos not only indicate whether or not the experiment is safe to try at home, but also point out what parts of the high school Regents curriculum each experiment correlates with.
“I’ve gotten so much awesome feedback with people from children of all ages — little ones, all the way up to my own students on my Google Classroom,” Hazzard said.
One of Hazzard’s videos provided her with a bit of personal vindication in the eyes of her own students.
Earlier in the school year, she’d tried to demonstrate how a supersaturated liquid solution turns into a solid, only for the attempt to go awry.
“I tripped as I was walking with it, and it turned to a solid in my hands and the kids didn’t see it,” Hazzard said.
In a video posted last Friday, Hazzard successfully created a supersaturated solution — the first time in 12 years as a teacher, she said in the video. This time, when she dropped a tiny crystal into the beaker containing the solution …
Voila! It turned solid in an instant before her eyes, and Hazzard smiled with glee.
It was a moment of catharsis, and that’s exactly what this process has been for Hazzard on a personal level. As both a teacher at Gloversville and an adjunct professor teaching physics at Fulton-Montgomery Community College, she’s been busy spending the school closure in constant contact with her students — “There are people who think teachers are just getting paid and watching Netflix all day,” she said. “No, we are busting our butts.” — as well as teaching her 6-year-old son, Boone, a budding “science nerd” who has already served as Hazzard’s assistant in a video of the popular “Elephant Toothpaste” experiment with water, yeast, liquid soap and hydrogen peroxide.
In communicating with her own students, Hazzard also has them reading up on COVID-19, getting some help from her mother, Patricia Tatlock, the director of infection prevention and control at St. Mary’s Healthcare.
Creating the videos as a side project has been a labor of love.
“I did it completely because I wanted to do it to help people,” Hazzard said, “but it’s proven for me to be very therapeutic during this time as well, and a great way to connect with my own students, and parents and children from all over.”
Hazzard’s got more videos on the docket — she said she’s trying to upload one or two per day, with plenty more planned — but has also come up with a way to get kids more involved.
After being up until around 3 a.m. Tuesday working on the details, Hazzard launched the Virtual Science Fair, allowing students from pre-K through 12th grade to either create a poster or post a video of themselves conducting an experiment, with prizes provided by local businesses.
“Instead of doing a different project every day, it’s one thing that they can work on a little bit each night,” Hazzard said. “I thought that would be less overwhelming for them: Come up with one idea, and then dedicate 15 or 20 minutes to it each day as one summative project.”
Full details of the fair are available at facebook.com/VirtualScienceFair2020.
Hazzard said she’s reached out to several scientists to serve as guest judges for the contest, including TV personality Bill Nye (the Science Guy).
“I don’t know if he’ll get back to me,” she said, “but what have I got to lose?”