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AAAS Brings Science to the White House Easter Egg Roll

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More than 50 AAAS staff members volunteered 6 April at the 137th annual White House Easter Egg Roll, spending a sunny Easter Monday on the South Lawn of the White House with more than 35,000 children and families, as well as Dora the Explorer, Cookie Monster, and the Cat in the Hat.

2015 marked the sixth time that AAAS has joined with the National Parks Foundation, the official charity of America's parks, to support the Easter egg roll, which first took place in 1878. In addition to the egg rolling, hunting, and dyeing, attendees enjoyed cooking demonstrations, storytelling, and live music. Sports and fitness zones, including a yoga garden, allowed participants to "Hop into Healthy, Swing into Shape," the theme for this year's event.

As they did in 2014, AAAS volunteers taught children about concepts including buoyancy and density by helping them make predictions about whether common items would sink or float in water. The children then made boats with Styrofoam plates, plastic straws, wooden sticks, and other supplies before testing how the boats would fare when placed in a plastic tub of water. Volunteers suggested ways that the children could modify the boats to make them more sea-worthy or encouraged them to test their boats' durability by adding beans or "cargo."

The AAAS table was organized by Dione Rossiter, director of the AAAS Mass Media Science and Engineering Fellows Program. "I'm grateful that so many staff members came together to make the day a success by adding an egg-citing science experience to the Easter egg roll festivities," Rossiter said. "I couldn't have asked for a more perfect event."

The 2015 White House Easter Egg Roll was the fifth anniversary of the First Lady's "Let's Move!" initiative to help kids grow up healthy and have the opportunity to reach their full potential. It was also the fifth time that Shirley Malcom, head of Education and Human Resources programs at AAAS, volunteered at the Easter event. "You would think that after my fifth one, I'd get tired of this," Malcom said. "But you see them discovering it for the first time. And we don't know how much science they're getting in school."

Sylvia Stancil, a resident of Woodbridge, Virginia who grew up just outside of Washington, D.C. in nearby Alexandria, Virginia, was one of those discovering the Easter egg roll for the first time with Rejohnay, her eight-year-old granddaughter. "I've always wanted to come, ever since I was a little girl," she said as her granddaughter built a boat with volunteers. "She's in any arts, crafts, science — hands-on stuff. She couldn't wait to get here," Stancil said. "She's trying to get to the egg dyeing next."

Alison and Brian Morrison came to the Easter egg roll from Burke, Virginia with their daughters two-year-old Julie and five-year-old Kendall. After rolling eggs and creating arts and crafts, the two girls came to the AAAS table to build boats. Kendall previously made a volcano with baking soda and may participate in a science camp led by her kindergarten teacher this summer. "She has a science kit. She constantly says, 'I want to do science! I want to do science!'" Morrison said.

Children who weren't very interested in some of the science activities were motivated by the volunteers' enthusiasm, said Laureen Summers, program associate for the AAAS Project on Science, Technology, and Disability. "The positive reinforcement really helps them," she said. "They were hesitant at first but when they saw me getting excited, they got excited."

The volunteers also encouraged the children to try again when their boats sank. "You should have seen one boat. It had four or five cups on it," Malcom said. The boat tipped over in the water not because it was too heavy but because it wasn't balanced, and after seeing what happened, the child who built the boat ran back to the supply table to start over.

"The thing that is interesting to me is that when they get into it, they really get into it. I mean, that little girl has been here for 15 minutes," Malcom added, looking at one amateur boat-builder.

Despite their interest in science, a little friendly friction between siblings may have been more of a motivating factor for 13-year-old Gabriel and his 11-year-old sister Medina, their father Gabriel Benn suggested. "They're very competitive," he said. "You're going to see them try to see whose boat is better. That's why I'm doing my own boat."

As her brother and sister continued crafting their boats, six-year-old Sophia Benn happily placed her boat in the water before she was offered beans by Rossiter. "It's so fun!" the little girl said.