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MechTube - applied mechanics outreach for children
Professor Suo suggested that I share this speculative idea that I once posted on Applied Mechanics News here on iMechanica!
In the future, we would like to reach out to children as early as their elementary school years to get them excited about topics drawn from Applied Mechanics. One approach to this goal takes inspiration from the successful "Le main a la pate", or "hands-in-dough", program in France (http://www.lamap.fr/ ), but extends the idea of hands-on science to take advantage of the internet.
Initially, we would gather ideas from the members of our Applied Mechanics online community for inexpensive and spectacular hands-on explorations of mechanical principles that would be safe and fun for children to carry out in their first science-oriented classes. Then we would encourage elementary school teachers to visit our website, choose projects that seemed interesting, try them in real classrooms, and post accounts of their successes and difficulties for everyone in the Applied Mechanics community to see and discuss.
If the students and teachers enjoyed these projects, we would encourage teachers to help their students produce short videos of the crucial moments of their experiments, and these videos could be shared online and ranked by viewers around the world such that the best ones would rise to the top. (Sites such as http://youtube.com/ and http://videosift.com/ have recently pioneered this democratic video-distribution-and-ranking mechanism. In our application, great care would be taken to protect the privacy of the children.) Here is a very simple but exciting science video already on YouTube - be sure to watch the ending!
Ideally, the video-sharing system would become self-sustaining: teachers could invent new projects themselves, asking college professors for help, and they could follow the best examples set by other teachers in their own classrooms. The children would learn how exciting Applied Mechanics can be at an early age, they could proudly show their parents their best experiments in action on any computer at home, and they would be more likely to be engaged by science classes later in their education.