Pump Up the Volume

By Steve Hendershot
Pump Up the Volume Image 2
The Sciencefist Foundation Program Manager
Photo: Kate Mcgroarty

"Anybody want to be a guinea pig?"

Immediately, 25 hands shoot up.

They belong to students at Hanson Park Elementary, a public elementary and middle school on Chicago’s West Side. School has finished for the day, but these students are taking part in scienceFIST, an after-school program spearheaded by Marc Hans (MSED ’10), a teacher at Hanson Park.

Hans started scienceFIST for the same reason he became a teacher in the first place: because he hated school as a kid. That was in suburban Morton Grove, Ill., where he thought the education system wasn’t geared towards kids like him, who had trouble sitting still.

“I figured there were kids like me who needed somebody who understood them,” he says.

There’s not much sitting still in scienceFIST. Today, Hans has brought in a guest speaker, Simon Fung, a 3M product developer who led the technical team that developed a revolutionary new medical tape that hit the market in 2011. Fung flew in from Minnesota to speak to these students as part of a partnership between scienceFIST and the Edison Awards, and he has all 25 of them compare his blue medical tape to traditional white plastic tape. The blue tape is just as sticky as the white tape, but it doesn’t hurt when they peel it off their skin.

The students are impressed, but Hans quickly shifts their focus from the product to the process.

“The people who developed this product are just like you,” he tells his students. “They are people who want to solve problems, who are good at science, technology, and math.”

Hans won a Golden Apple Award in 2011, an award given annually to 10 standout teachers in the Chicago area. Now he’s trying to expand scienceFIST beyond Hanson Park; the program is operating in 10 schools this year, and he’s hired a part-time program manager, Kate McGroarty, to coordinate the other sites.

McGroarty’s job is to figure out how much of Hans’s methods can be transferred to other schools and how much is uniquely his. She believes scienceFIST can expand successfully, but also acknowledges that Hans’s classroom is special.

Hans “has more energy than any person I’ve ever met, kids included, when he gets a vision in his head of something he wants to happen,” she says.

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Marc Hans (MSED ’10) and students cheer for science.
Photo: Kate Mcgroarty

As Fung concludes his presentation, Hans gathers the students together in the center of the room and asks Fung for a parting word of wisdom. Fung thinks for a second, then answers, “People used to say, ‘You are such a nerd.’ Well, I love what I do, and I don’t care what you call me.”

None of the kids laughs. In fact, they’re fired up—none more so than Hans, who says, “That deserves a science fist!” All 25 students make a fist and thrust their hands toward the center of the circle. They yell “SCIENCE FIST!” in unison.

Soon, Hans, Fung, and all the kids are heading down Fullerton Avenue to the Taco & Burrito House, a restaurant that’s been providing discounts to Hans’s groups for years. When the kids start munching on chips and salsa, they’re still talking about Fung’s blue tape—and about science.

“There are a lot of activities and experiments, and fun little twists to scienceFIST,” says Anthony, a seventh grader. “It used to be, out of all the subjects, I didn’t love science. Now it’s in my top two or three.”

Oscar, his classmate, agrees. “A lot of kids say they hate science, but you know, it’s not the subject, it’s how you learn it. ScienceFIST is pretty cool.”