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Princeton Couple Makes Science Fun With Video Series for Young Children

Candace Braun

For many children, learning science from a textbook can be boring and confusing. But if children were entertained by science, perhaps they wouldn't develop negative feelings towards the subject, which can linger on into adulthood.

That's why Drs. Elva O'Sullivan and Scott Rickard have created a science video series, Science With Me, for children aged four to seven years.

The series features Mr. Heisen-Bear and Al-Bear Einstein, two animated bears that work together to solve Heisen-Bear's every day problems using the scientific method and other science concepts. The video encourages young children to get excited about science, and encourages parental involvement.

Science With Me began as an afterschool program in Princeton, which became a video series to reach a larger audience.

A resident of Princeton for 10 years, Dr. O'Sullivan first came to the states after graduating with a bachelor's of science degree from the University College of Dublin, Ireland. She received her Ph.D. in chemistry from Clarkson University in New York, and then settled in Princeton, where she met her husband, Dr. Rickard, who has a Ph.D. in applied and computational mathematics from Princeton University.

Now the mother of two sons, Loghlen, four, and Luke, two, Dr. O'Sullivan has decided to take her science knowledge down to her children's level, but in a way that most teachers haven't thought of in the past.

A few years ago Dr. O'Sullivan was approached by a fellow mother at the Princeton Montessori School, where Loghlen was a student. Knowing Dr. O'Sullivan's background, the mother asked if she would be interested in running a science program for young children. At the time Dr. O'Sullivan was involved in other projects, particularly her scientific work at American Cyanamid Company and BASF Corporation. However the more she thought about it, the more she realized it was a challenge she would like to attempt.

"I thought about how I would teach science to children differently," said Dr. O'Sullivan. "There wasn't much out there for teachers that was useful, that would show kids how science relates to the real world."

She began by teaching an afterschool program to children at the Princeton Academy, then offered the program to children in the greater Princeton community.

"I was so impressed by the way she got kids excited about science," said Lisa Mazzone, owner of Ici Fashions and mother of one of the children who attended the program.

However recently Dr. O'Sullivan's husband obtained a job as a faculty member in the electronic and engineering department at University College Dublin, Dr. O'Sullivan's alma mater. As the couple began the process of moving to Europe, parents of children in the science program asked that Dr. O'Sullivan find some way to continue the program once she left. It was then she decided to create a video series based on the same classroom activities she had taught in the afterschool program.

Teaching Children

Dr. Sullivan's videos teach children how science relates to everyday life, without "dumbing it down" to their age level.

"As parents, we tend not to give our children enough credit for their intellectual capabilities," said Dr. O'Sullivan. "We tend to think we need to wait until our kids are older to introduce them to things like math and science. Scott and I think this is a mistake."

The videos start by explaining a problem that Mr. Heisen-Bear is having, after which he generalizes the concept, then performs an experiment. He then calls his scientist friend Al-Bear Einstein, to explain the concepts that outline the experiment.

For example, in the first video in the series, titled, "Mr. Heisen-Bear and Fizzy Soda Science," Mr. Heisen-Bear needs to make some fizzy soda for a picnic he's going to with his friends. Through an experiment shown in cartoon as well as by real students in a classroom, the children are taught the scientific method, atoms, acid base reactions, chemical formulas, dilution, solubility, volume, and weight in a manner which they can comprehend.

"Kids get so confused with the scientific concepts," said Dr. Rickard, who helped his wife create the video series. He added that many teachers teach the textbook concept first, when it should be left until the end, as they have done in their video.

The couple determines what ideas do and don't work by observing their children and seeing how they react to the concepts. If their children are bored or confused, they go back and revise the video to reflect the children's interests.

First produced only a month ago, the first Science With Me video is now available to purchase at Ici Fashions in Palmer Square, as well as on the web at www.science withme.com. The video will also soon be sold in other stores nationwide. Currently the couple has sold over 100 of the first video in the series.

Operating her Princeton business from Ireland, Dr. O'Sullivan and her husband have now written 12 scripts for future Science With Me videos. The next two videos in the series will be out in the fall, "Mr. Heisen-Bear and Mystery Substance Science," and "Mr. Heisen-Bear and Salad Dressing Science."

The couple is also working on two other series for children, "Math With Me," and "Engineering With Me."

"The beauty is that the number of [videos we produce] can be infinite, as there are so many topics to present," said Dr. O'Sullivan.

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