Kids learn math, get Slinkys at fair

Brian Close

More than 500 children and parents watched as presenters hammered nails with bananas and made waves with Slinkys at the seventh annual Math Fun Fair on Saturday.
Officials divided the Earle Brown Continuing Education Center on the St. Paul campus into 26 exhibit stations, each with a theme ranging from chemistry to geometry.
The fair was sponsored by the Institute of Technology Center for Educational Programs, which also organizes a variety of mathematics enrichment programs for children.
Fran and Tom Ostertag, volunteer presenters at the fair, have participated for the last six years. Tom Ostertag presented a hands-on show about vacuum pressure.
“I think the children learn a lot,” said Fran Ostertag. “Some of them come back every year, and they already know what is going to happen.”
The Society of Physics Students also gave a demonstration called “Fun with Physics.”
Julie Schmidt, the group’s president, said the goal was to get kids involved and more aware of the fun side of physics.
“We are able to present things that are really complex, on a fairly simple level, and that’s what we are here to do,” she said.
In another exhibit, Barbara Swanson’s sixth-grade math class brought a variety of hand-made mathematics games. Each child manned his or her table as participants tried to solve the hands-on problems.
Swanson, who teaches at Capitol Hill Magnet school in St. Paul, said the project teaches the children about mathematics both as they construct the exhibits and as they present them to fair participants.
“I like that there is no competition,” she said. “It is a marvelous opportunity for the kids.”
One of the fair favorites was a show that allowed children to win giant Slinky toys if they gave the correct answer to science questions.
Geoff Wessendorf, a sixth-grader who won a Slinky, said the object will come in handy.
“It is very useful for zapping people and items,” he said, describing how he holds a few rings of the spring-thing, and pushes the remaining coils toward a person or item.
Jerry Houston, a Minneapolis resident who brought two children to the event, said the children really enjoyed the fair.
“Both of them have been thoroughly captivated and fascinated,” he said.