I come to you today to share a tale of science literacy, educational programming, and exploding goo. Welcome to the world of Mad Science, a company that teaches kids in schools and summer camps about physics and chemistry by way of theatrical presentations. I interview a presenter, Caitlin Ashberry, or as she is known at Mad Science, "Katie Kaboom."
1. What made you want to work for Mad Science?
My story about how I came to work for Mad Science is completely uninteresting. I found the posting online. I applied online, went to a group interview, made it through to an independent interview and got hired into the part time program. I was still an undergrad so a flexible schedule was my biggest reason for choosing to apply for the position. It fit really well with my work experience most of which has been with children in libraries, museums and summer camps.
2. What kind of background/training did you need to be hired by Mad Science?
While some of our people have heavy science backgrounds most of us are teachers. I once worked with an astrophysicist and a biologist who was transitioning from “doing science” to “teaching science.” Most of the staff are people who have recently graduated from teaching programs and can’t find jobs with the school boards in the GTA*. I’m not certified as a teacher but have a lot of experience working with children.
3. What are some of your hobbies? Do you see a crossover between the skills used in your hobbies and those used in your job?
Some of my hobbies include knitting, writing, watching too much scifi and reading books. In general, I’ve found that the connection from hobbies to work is going backwards for me. I’ve got a much stronger interest in acting and performing though I haven’t gone anywhere on that as of yet. When I started working for Mad Science I had only a passing interest in science and over the years have become much more enthusiastic about scientific discoveries and following developments in the scientific communities. Did you know that the Higgs Boson probably doesn’t exist and that means that we have to completely revamp our understanding of matter? Isn’t that cool? No? Just me? Ok.
4. Would you relate your job more to teaching or to performing?
That one really depends on area of business I’m working in that week. Our curriculum based workshops are definitely more like teaching. They happen in a classroom, the groups are never larger than thirty or thirty five and they’re focused on making sure that kids are learning the curriculum objectives as laid out by the Ontario government.
Birthdays and special event shows are more like performing. A birthday is an interactive show that lasts an hour and includes a take home project so it’s a mix between showy experiments and performance and teaching style instruction. Special events are even more like performance. I’ve gotten up in front of 200 kids in the cinesphere at Ontario Place and done a show that could never be considered a lesson.
On the advertising material we tag it as “Educational entertainment and entertaining education.”
5. What other jobs could your experiene with Mad Science lead to?
Teaching is the big one and - hopefully - other jobs with educational enrichment programs. I would like to use this job as experience as I move into an more behind the scenes job developing educational program at a museum which would take my experience and mix it with my degree in history.
There can be as many as 30 or 40 instructors, most of them working part time in our After School stream. They teach extra-curricular programs in schools all over the GTA. I think we almost all start there but from there people can be promoted to teaching curriculum based workshops or doing birthdays and event shows.
Our office staff is usually about nine people including salespeople who handle bookings, equipment managers who create and maintain all the lesson kits and then people who handle the scheduling and training of a staff of 40.
7. Finally, what’s the coolest demonstration you’ve ever done for the kids?
The best single experiment is Rufus the Foam Snake. It uses a violent catalyst reaction between 35%+ hydrogen peroxide (which is not the drug store stuff, it’s the burn-your-skin-off stuff) and potassium iodide and some soap and food colour to create a fountain of foam. I have destroyed two ceilings with it but when it works it is beautiful. The attached photo is a picture of Rufus from summer camp this year.
*GTA = Greater Toronto Area