Karen “Professor K” Lorshbough was a bundle of energy as she recently taught about 120 enthusiastic, mostly elementary-school-age listeners about physics.
Lorshbough discussed a range of subjects — from Sir Isaac Newton to gyroscopic motion and stability — with La Cañada Unified School District students last week as part of a district family STEAM night at La Cañada Elementary School. STEAM is an approach to learning that stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and math and is aimed at better preparing students for higher education and future success in the workforce.
Her animated teaching style combined experiments, the constant inclusion of volunteers, a performer’s use of grand gestures and voice accentuations, and won over the audience of students from kindergarten through 6th grade and their parents.
During a brief presentation on Newton’s Cradle, an instrument that uses five swinging spheres to demonstrate energy and momentum, she explained that for every action there’s an equal but opposite reaction, an idea she illustrated with the humorous observation “Like, you do your homework, you pass the test.”
Before putting the large Newton’s Cradle in motion to explain kinetic energy, she noted, “One ball on this side makes one ball come out on that side, and then it’s going to bash back. One ball on this side, one ball on that one! Ready?”
The audience, which largely filled LCE’s cafeteria, cheered — for both the lesson and the showmanship. The attendees also enjoyed lots of free Domino’s Pizza before the program began.
“I ran out of pizza and I ran out of chairs, so that was great,” Amy Nespor, LCUSD’s community science liaison, said afterward. “I thought it was very engaging. A lot of people were really involved — I like how she involved the parents as well as the kids. It made everything fun. The kids learned without realizing they were learning.”
One of the attendees who enjoyed Lorshbough’s approach was 10-year-old Joseph Yang, a 5th-grader at Paradise Canyon Elementary School.
“It was cool,” he said. He frequently stood and yelled responses with classmate Weston Pardo, 11, when Lorshbough would ask for crowd participation.
Joseph in particular enjoyed Newton’s Cradle because Lorshbough was able to illustrate how it specifically tied into kinetic energy.
“I never knew there were lines [of kinetic energy] in Newton’s Cradle and how one [ball] traveled back and forth,” Yang said.
Weston said he enjoyed her use of an “anti-gravity cup” that came toward the end of the program. Lorshbough turned a cup upside down with water inside and nothing came out.
“I never knew what anti-gravity was until now,” Weston said.
Lorshbough had asked the youths to search “anti-gravity cup or water in glass trick” on their computers at home to figure out how the cup worked.
“Remember, gravity ties things to the earth,” Lorshbough said before showing off the trick. “Anti-gravity means the opposite.”
Weston’s father, Jason, who also brought his son Clayton, said he was impressed with Lorshbough’s teaching style.
“I thought the presenter was doing such an excellent job that deserved as much support as she could get,” he said. “It’s really hard to keep it interactive and I’ve been to some lackluster demonstrations. Some people have a lot of knowledge but just no way to really involve the kids, but this was an excellent example of how to keep it interesting and fun for everyone.”
Lorshbough, who wore a white lab coat, said afterward she tried to gear her presentation for those with shorter attention spans by using the training she learned from improvisational classes and having been a dancer.
“You’ve got to keep it going,” she said. “You’ve got to use improv, you got to use your voice and your face, keep the program under control and answer questions at the end.”
The next STEAM program is set for 6:30 p.m. Oct. 16 at Palm Crest Elementary.