- May 16, 2017
When Karen Bell stood in the middle of the Circus Arts Conservatory floor in clown makeup to ask 1,200 fifth graders if there is science in the circus, she was met with a resounding yes.
Bell followed up by asking which scientific properties show up in various circus acts, and the students yelled out friction, gravity, kinetic energy, and balanced and unbalanced forces, to name a few.
In its sixth year, The Circus Arts Conservatory’s Education Outreach team invited Sarasota and Manatee county students to Sailor Circus on Jan. 23 and 24.
Bell, the circus outreach education manager, and her associate, Rikki Hettig-Rolfe Meaux, travel to 25 schools from September to December to teach students about how science and the circus intertwine. It’s all part of the conservatory’s education program, which is in partnership with EdExploreSRQ.
The culmination of the program amounts to two days, 2,500 fifth graders and one Circus Science Machine, which features slacklines standing on a suspended rope with a ladder to showcase balanced and unbalanced forces to an aerial silks performance to showcase gravity and friction.
“It’s a natural fit because physics is all about motion, and the circus is all about motion, so it matches really well,” Bell said. “The circus is such a child-friendly way to learn because it’s exciting, and it’s fun. They’re not thinking so much about how they’re learning, but they are learning.”
This year, the Sailor Circus welcomed Sarasota High School circus magnet students to help.
Created by the circus science engineers at the conservatory, the machine demonstrates physics, gravity, force and motion.
Broken down into several sections, the machine’s chain reactions range from colorful balls sliding down a ramp to knock over a row of dominos to a fake monkey rolling a basketball down a zigzag track to eventually knock a tennis ball through a tube.
Each component leads to a circus act, such as the knocked over dominos lowering aerial silks for Meaux to perform with or the tennis ball shooting out of a tube for Zeus the circus dog to play basketball.
The fifth graders sat on the edges of their seats with looks of wonder as they watched each performance.
“The best part of this show is the expressions on the kids’ faces,” said Lauren Brook, a fifth grade teacher at Laurel Nokomis Elementary School.
Weeks earlier the students made their own, smaller scale circus machines in their classrooms.
When Bell and Meaux travel to schools, they do so in full clown makeup and costumes to present an assembly on circus science. Afterward, they give each teacher curriculum ideas for a five-day class filled with videos of the education outreach team going further in depth on how each circus act works with science.
“You’re kind of changing the dynamic of the classroom,” Bell said. “Teachers tell us, ‘We’ve been saying the same thing to the kids, but they’re listening now because there’s a clown in front of them rather than their teacher.’”