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NLU, Prairie Crossing partnership gets kids excited about science

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In April, NLU Associate Professor Vito Dipinto, Ed.D., was invited to share with Anne Marie DePaz’s third- and fourth-grade students at Prairie Crossing Charter School how he “invented” the “pop” in Pop Rocks.

Said Dipinto: “When I was a chemist for IIT Research Institute, I was the principal investigator on a contract for General Foods from December 1977 to April 1978. I was to synthesize substances that when put in the mouth would release carbon dioxide. I ended up using both a chemical and engineering solution. I had no idea that the work would be used to develop a candy.”

Dipinto showed students the reaction of citric acid  and sodium bicarbonate in an activity he called “coffee can stoichiometry.” The feedback from students was very enthusiastic — the demonstration really captured their imagination — and some even did Pop Rocks experiments on their own.

NLU has several projects with Prairie Crossing, which is the field experience site for the University’s picot mentor’s academy. Dipinto is mentoring three M.A.T. in Elementary Education teacher candidates as part of this program, and he offers their cooperating teachers his talents as either a chemist or storyteller. NLU is also developing curriculum for a service-learning project called the “Back Pack Project,” in which Dipinto’s and Professor Peter Fisher’s science methods and literacy methods students design and teach an outdoor “green” lesson.

Prairie Crossing’s Naomi Hershiser, Dean of Environmental Programs, and Andrea Koeniger, Dean of Faculty and Students, have been instrumental in developing the on-going professional relationship with this unique green school.

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