Manatee County Teacher Brings Science Experiments to Local Parks
Meet Alex Martin, a local college math teacher at Manatee Learning Academy who is also passionate about science and astronomy. Martin is the author of seven science fiction books (in fact, one of them, titled Resonance, released today). And although his work is fiction, there are many principles he learned in his science education, including the wonders of space.
In fact, Martin is so passionate about science that he started an organization called Sidewalk Science Center, where he shares free science experiments for kids in local parks. He brings a table, chairs and any other equipment he needs, and allows curious passers-by to join in his experiences. Martin hosted nearly 350 Sidewalk Science Center sessions in 20 cities.
Locally, the Sidewalk Science Center is located in Bayfront Park in Sarasota and Riverwalk in Bradenton three to four times a week. Martin, along with an environmental biologist, organizes over 30 spinning experiments for children.
âIt all started in 2018 in Savannah, Georgia, where I used to live,â says Martin. “I had a website for bonus content related to one of my books, and I had the idea to create a series of videos where I would interview people on the street on science issues.”
This “man in the street” style worked for Martin. He asked questions such as, âWhy does the sun set at different times of the day? Or “What is heat?” He loved the opportunity to educate others, and the video series eventually turned into experiences in its own right.
Martin was unemployed when he started making videos, but he eventually found a job at the Savannah Children’s Museum, where he found teaching for children. science was even more fun. After spending five months in Georgia, he moved to Sarasota and began exploring the local park scene for a new place to settle.
âThe weather is so beautiful all year round in Sarasota, so I knew this would be a great location for the Sidewalk Science Center,â Martin said. âSince we started in 2020, we have received a constant number of visits from locals and visitors. “
But Sarasota isn’t the only place Martin has his eye on. Although he is installed here, he does not pass up the opportunity to take his science program on the road. He traveled to Denver, Colorado, and 16 cities on the east coast, from Baltimore to Miami. More than 40,000 people have visited his tabletop stands since he established the Sidewalk Science Center three years ago, he says.
So what kinds of science can kids expect to learn when they show up at one of Martin’s tables?
âOne popular experiment is called the gravity chain, where a 50-foot-long plastic bead chain is coiled in a Chinese take-out bucket,â says Martin. “One edge of the twine is pulled over the edge of the bucket, and when you pull the twine hard enough, the entire twine will fall out of the bucket on its own.” This is supposed to teach physics concepts like inertia, momentum, and balance.
Another favorite is called Flying Cups, which shows off a concept called the Magnus Effect. One example is the curved path of a baseball when thrown in the air. Children can also learn about magnets, refraction of sound and light, biology by looking under a microscope, and astronomy with one of Martin’s telescopes.
âWe use real-life examples to answer questions like ‘How do cameras work? “Or” how are rainbows formed? Â»Â», Explains Martin. âI’ve seen some of the same families come out over the years and it’s amazing how much they learn and remember. “
Although Martin does not yet have nonprofit status, he accepts donations to the Sidewalk Science Center, which is fully self-funded. His effort also stays alive by attending public markets, hosting private parties and appearing at other local events.
And if the moon and stars are your thing, join Martin at Bayfront Park this Saturday, October 16, 7-9 p.m. The Sidewalk Science Center will celebrate NASA’s International Moon Watching Night with a complimentary night of observation.
To learn more about the Sidewalk Science Center, click here.