Albert Einstein came back to life on Thursday morning at Oak Hill Elementary as part of a program that aims to bring science to life for students.
From Einstein’s wild white hair down to his famously sockless feet, professional storyteller Marc Spiegel embodied the scientist, never breaking character as he broke down the theory of relativity for the audience of fourth, fifth and sixth graders.
“Einstein” visited the Herndon school as part of the Nifty Fifty (times 3) program, part of the USA Science and Engineering Festival. Through the program, more than 150 science presenters are visiting Washington, D.C., area schools ahead of the April festival to spark students’ interest in science.
While Spiegel shared tidbits about Einstein’s life, from his birth in 1879 to his death in 1955, he focused more on the physicist’s work.
“Personal facts, they are like socks,” Spiegel told the students. “I do not wear socks. They are unnecessary. What is important to understand are the ideas inside my mind.”
To make the scientific theories accessible for the children, Spiegel broke into song and dance, got teachers to provide silly sound effects and recruited students as volunteers. He also provided real-world examples.
When explaining how energy causes matter to change, “Einstein” asked the audience to imagine what happens to an ice cream cone (matter) in the heat of the sun (energy).
“It melts!” yelled the students.
“You see? That’s the change!” Spiegel explained.
To illustrate the concept of relativity, he brought up a fourth-grade volunteer. He noted that compared to the boy, he was tall, but compared to the ceiling he was short.
“When something is relative, we need to compare it to something else to understand it,” Spiegel said.
After the presentation ended, Malavika Pillai, a sixth grader at Oak Hill Elementary, said “Einstein” really held students’ attention.
“A lot of kids sometimes just sit at educational assemblies like this,” Malavika said. “Today, you could tell everyone was having fun and really getting into the ideas.”
The 12-year-old is a member of the school’s X-STEM team. The student ambassadors on the team promote the STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering and math — in their school and community.
The X-STEM, or Extreme STEM, program is part of the lead-up to the festival, and schools could register to start their own teams. Oak Hill Elementary’s team started last April, said parent coordinator Padmini Nidumolu. Nidumolu’s 10-year-old son Pranava is one of six children who make up the core group.
“These kids are really in that science zone,” Nidumolu said. “And they’re reaching out to get their classmates excited as well.”
Through the X-STEM program, Oak Hill Elementary was approached about taking part in a Nifty Fifty (times 3) presentation. The X-STEM team will also have their own booth at the USA Science and Engineering Festival, which will take place April 26-27 at the Washington Convention Center.
The biennial festival was founded to boost young people’s interest in math and science, and features hands-on exhibits and performances.
“Einstein” will be at the festival as well, continuing to encourage students to jump into science.
“It is very important not to be afraid of science,” Spiegel told the Oak Hill students. “Do not be discouraged by things you do not understand. Be excited!”