Hundreds of young students and their parents learned about seeds and plants at a AAAS exhibit on the “science of spring” during the 2010 White House Egg Roll.
In line with First Lady Michelle Obama’s efforts to curb childhood obesity through eating well and exercising, the AAAS-Science booth featured hands-on activities focused around plants, nuts, and seeds associated with fruits and vegetables.
Developed by the Education and Human Resources staff at AAAS, the exhibit featured a dissection table where children could explore the external and internal structures of lima beans and green beans; two microscopes where visitors could examine lentils, pea sprouts, tulips, and crabapple flowers; and a game asking participants to identify the seeds within a pile of objects.
In addition, children were given packets of green bean seeds and encouraged to plant them at home and upload images of their progress to a AAAS 2010 “Science of Spring” Web site.
More than 30,000 people from all 50 states attended this year’s White House Egg Roll. The annual tradition began in 1878 when U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes and his wife invited local children to celebrate with their own kids on the White House lawn.
The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy contacted AAAS earlier this year to submit proposals for a science-themed exhibit for inclusion in the 2010 event. It was the second consecutive year AAAS was invited to the White House to showcase the science of spring during the annual White House event.
Last year, the exhibit featured interactive games encouraging children to match bird eggs with their animal parent, coloring activities showing the different types of animals that lay eggs, and a life-cycle chart of how a frog develops from a tiny egg into a tadpole and then an adult.
“We are very pleased to have been invited once again to showcase science at the White House Egg Roll,” said AAAS CEO and Science Executive Publisher Alan I. Leshner, who visited the exhibit in the morning. “Watching both children and their parents be fascinated by the ‘science of spring’ is a true delight for anyone interested in engaging the public with science.”
This year, AAAS collaborated with the Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley, California, in developing science activities. Elizabeth Stage, director of the Lawrence Hall, said that their kite-making activity was designed to “get kids moving while learning about the science of weather, wind, and spring.”
The AAAS “Science of Spring” exhibit was positioned on the South Lawn of the White House alongside an array of other activities—yoga, a smoothie bar, cooking, bee-keeping demonstrations, and egg-dying stations, among others. President Barack Obama was there, too. Following the First Lady’s healthy lifestyle theme for this year’s egg roll—“Ready, Set, Go!”—he took to the basketball court and shot hoops with local school children.
He also read the Dr. Seuss classic Green Eggs and Ham during the Storytime Stage exhibit in which Sam-I-Am encourages the unnamed main character to try a variety of green foods. Obama said that the book’s message is important and encouraged children to try new foods, even if they think they may not like them.
On hand at the AAAS tables to help with the microscopes and handle tough science questions were Kelly Grant, a AAAS Science & Technology Fellow at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Ali Nouri, a former S&T Fellow who now works on science policy in the U.S. Senate.
Calling the dissection of a lima bean “fun” and the actual water-soaked bean “slimy like a clam,” Benjamin Crawford, 8, from Atlanta, Georgia, was surprised to hear that a full adult plant starts out at the much smaller seed. “It doesn’t look like a big plant,” Benjamin said as he looked at the lima bean.
Grant said that kids appeared excited to use a microscope and at the brilliance of the image that appeared through the eyepieces. In addition, she said that they were surprised to be able to see things like tulip pollen that were not easily visible without the microscope. Although they may not have known exactly how to manipulate the focus and magnification knobs, most knew that turning them would affect the image, she said.
Nouri said that while children knew a little about plant development, they were excited to see the life-cycle of a green bean plant in front of them. Nouri challenged the children to arrange a series of five cups, each displaying a stage in the green bean plant’s development—from a seed to its placing of secondary roots into the soil.
For Edward Fisher, 8, the challenge was simple. “We learned about that in school and I see it outside,” said Fisher, who is from Washington, D.C. “You put the seed in the ground with water and sun and then it grows.”
Shirley Malcom, head of Education and Human Resources at AAAS, said that the exhibit is ideal for the White House event and spring because it “puts the season on display.” The science of growing is very accessible for a wide-range of ages, Malcom said, and “children can relate to the lessons based on their observations of the natural world.”
Learn more about seeds and the science of spring.
View a slideshow of photos taken at the 2010 White House Egg Roll