Many of us think back to science class with fond—or not so fond—memories of experiments, science fair projects, and learning about what really makes the world turn. The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Towson University is fortunate to have Jody Johnson teaching “Science with Grandma and Grandpa” during our fall 2021 semester. She’s giving Osher members a chance to relive those positive experiences once again—and teaching them how to share the fun of science with their grandkids.

Jody has taught for Osher at Towson University over the last several years and has become a fan-favorite presenter of science-based classes. Jody also teaches at Maryland Institute College of Art, where she teaches courses including World Pollinators, Environmental Science, Physical Science and Science of Sustainability—some of which she has tailored to our Osher members and has shared with us. Her research on honeybees also causes her to be linked to wildlife that affect bees including bears, skunks, mites, wasps, and moths. As a mother of three boys, she has overseen the care of pet rats, hamsters, fish, rabbits, parakeets, parrots, tarantulas, doves, chickens, ducks, guineas, dogs, cats, snakes, and ferrets. Jody enjoys taking students into her hives to explore the world of bees. She enthusiastically shares her knowledge and love of wildlife with her students of all ages.

Related link: Osher Instructor Spotlight: Jody Johnson

Last week, her “Science with Grandma and Grandpa” course started just like any other, except this time Jody advised me there would be a special guest attending. I couldn’t help but be excited to see who might be joining us. Members began arriving and chatting about the other classes they’re taking and their upcoming weekend plans. Jody had placed items to share with the class on a table in the classroom before getting started with her presentation.

This course has been unconventional in its presentation style, offering Osher members the opportunity to learn fun and educational topics and experiments to share with family and friends.

Creating plaster molds of animal feet

Halfway through the class, I was invited to join them as they trekked to the parking lot for an experiment and the arrival of the special guest. While enjoying the sunshine and the crisp fall weather, Jody opened her car door and introduced us to the special guest—one of her resident chickens. Her chicken, who I have fondly dubbed Henrietta, played a very important role in the class experiment. Gently, we used Henrietta’s feet to make impressions in mud that Jody had collected and brought with her to class. Then, using some easy to find tools from around the house (cardboard from a soda box, plaster mix, and water) we created the beginnings of a mold of Henrietta’s feet. This is a fun, easy, and inexpensive project if you happen to have any cooperative, resident animals at home. You can also take this project on the go to local walking trails and use the animal impressions available in the mud to create your plaster molds.

Soda geyser experiment

Another experiment the class conducted while in our parking lot laboratory was a Mentos candy and Coca-Cola eruption, also known as a soda geyser. Here’s how this experiment works: Mentos candy pieces sink to the bottom of the Coca-Cola bottle. The Mentos candy produces more and more carbon dioxide bubbles, and the rising bubbles react with carbon dioxide that is still in the soda to cause more carbon dioxide to be freed and create even more bubbles. As you may know from an occasional enjoyment of a Mentos candy, they are relatively dense, sinking rapidly through the Coca-Cola which causes a very fast, large eruption. Our Mentos were unfortunately not of the original variety and were a tad small compared to our 2 liter bottle of soda, so our eruption was more like a backyard water feature and less like a Mount Vesuvius. We’ve all learned in science classes that ALL experiments include variables – so ours was naturally, no different. While variables can interfere with expected results, they only enhance the unpredictability and fun had while learning and trying something new.

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Towson University strives to produce programming that ends with members talking about the fun they’ve had along the way, and the new things they’ve learned in the classroom. Whether your classroom uses a desk and chair or is in a parking lot, uses a pen and paper or some materials found around your own backyard, one thing that is a constant is that there has been no shortage of learning, fun, and smiles during the fall 2021 semester. Staff are busy planning the winter lecture series and the spring semester, so please stay tuned for more educational opportunities in the coming months.