Two weekends ago, I walked through the door of an otherwise normal-looking apartment building in Haidian to find the lair of a mad scientist complete with robot parts, 3D printers, periodic tables, and Erlenmeyer flasks.
Instead of a wizened scientist running the experiments, a small group of elementary schoolers decked out in lab coats and safety goggles were at the helm. These kids were getting a hands-on introduction to one of the most classic science experiments for kids, the Coca-Cola and Mentos bottle rocket, with a local organization called Genius Lab.
Unfortunately, in many local schools in Beijing, true science experiments are far too uncommon and often sacrificed for book knowledge. Genius Lab created this kids’ laboratory and curriculum to fill this need.
Genius Lab is an after-school and weekend science program that provides a hands-on, creative approach to science education.
The Coca-Cola and Mentos bottle rocket experiment is just one of the many experiments that the organization facilitates. It partners with local schools to give instruction in Chinese and is planning to open its first English-language program in the near future.
After exploring the space, I sat down with Sophia Su, founder, to discuss the vision of Genius Lab. She explained that about 80 percent of the teachers are science Master’s and PhD students from local universities who have a desire to teach the experimental process to kids. She explained to me the difference between what goes on at local schools and what happens at Genius Lab.
“In local schools, you would learn about DNA and its double helix structure. It would be a very blurred concept in your head and you would just know the theory. But here at Genius Lab, we learn about [the theory]and then we do an experiment where we extract a strawberry’s or a banana’s DNA,” she says.
“It would be a visual experiment for [the kids]. They would know more about cells, DNA, the nuclei and everything related. It’s very exciting and that’s a big difference from what they get in school.”
It was exciting to go into the apartment complex courtyard with the little bottle rockets and shoot them up into the sky. Parents crowded around and took pictures as the kids giggled.
I can see why, after participating in this program, many kids tell Su and her colleagues that they want to be scientists and go to MIT. It all begins with the passion that Genius Lab puts into their work.
If you’re interested in finding out more, contact Su and Genius Lab through the organization’s official WeChat account: GeniusLab.
Kassandra Lee is a published poet, arts organizer, and education entrepreneur. In her free time, she enjoys talking about education and biking around the eclectic hutong neighborhoods of Beijing in search of surprises.
Photo: Kassandra Lee