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UMass Chan professor gets local fifth-graders excited about chemistry

Using Jell-O molds and laser pointers, William R. Kobertz, PhD, professor of biochemistry & molecular pharmacology, is turning learning about chemistry into fun for the fifth graders at Charlotte Dunning Elementary School in Framingham by teaching them how the principals of refraction can be used to bend light in a circle.

Once a month, Dr. Kobertz uses hands-on experiments to teach chemistry concepts such as polymers, ion movement and the electromagnetic spectrum that the 10- and 11-year-old students at Dunning are required to learn for their upcoming standardized science test mandated by the Commonwealth.

For the most recent class, Kobertz taught the students the difference between fluorescence, phosphorescence, chemiluminescence and refraction using a series of visual and hands-on experiments in the classroom.

The goal is to reach students at an early age to get them excited about and build their enthusiasm for science.

“At this age they’re not excited about science anymore,” said Kobertz. “What we have done is teach them the science behind their glow-in-the-dark stars, which is phosphorescence, and their glow-in-the dark bracelets, which is chemiluminescence.”

“It’s really important for them to have the hands-on experience,” said Kelsey Brennan, a fifth-grade teacher at Dunning Elementary. “Pedagogically it is import for them to be physically doing something because that makes more of an impact than just watching something.”

The program is supported by a grant from the American Chemical Society’s ACS Science Coach Program.

“It’s great to have Bill come in here and work with them,” said Brennan. “They get to see if this is maybe something they want to do; maybe this is something that’s in their future.”