Clowns helping teach science in Suncoast schools

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SARASOTA, Fla. - How do we get Suncoast students to score better on the FCATs and to retain what they learn about difficult subjects? That's a question educators grapple with every day. And now an answer has come from a very unexpected source: clowns.

Circus Sarasota clowns Karen Bell and Robin Eurich teach science to Susan Aubel's 5th graders once a week. She says they take difficult, abstract scientific concepts -- kinetic energy, potential energy, balance, force, friction, accreditation -- and use hands-on experiments to show students how the concepts work in circus tricks.

Then the students do a test to prove that the principles they've been taught by the clowns really work.

The clowns may look funny, but they have advanced degrees and are specially trained to teach science in accordance to state and FCAT standards, and they must stick to the teacher's lesson plan.

But they have unique circus teaching tools at their disposal. "We've got in the circus the teeter board act, the trapeze and juggling, and the human cannonball…we have all these wonderful vehicles for explaining the principles of physics in a way that children can remember," says Eurich.

5th grader Veronica Bekhit will vouch for that. “We’re learning force and gravity…we're having fun at the same time and we start remembering it when we take the test."

And test results back her up. "The pre-test – the knowledge the kids have -- is 53%. The post-test was 97% knowledge base; so a pretty big significant difference,” says Bell.

The egg trick helps 5th grader Brandon Radu remember his physics lesson. “Friction and the potential energy that the egg has when it drops into the cup."

As Susan Aubel watches the delight on the faces of her students as they see science in action, she says she's so glad she brought the two clowns into her classroom. "It was just a perfect fit, because it’s like taking the magic out of the circus and putting it into physicals and making it alive and real."

The Big Top Education Clowns go into elementary and middle schools in Sarasota and Manatee counties to teach science and language arts. It's part of Circus Sarasota's Community Outreach Program.