After retiring in 2015 from a 39-year teaching career, over 30 of which he spent at Mazama High School, Michael Lamb is still employing his teaching skills — in a way that is needed now more than ever before. Lamb started his own YouTube channel three years ago. It is geared toward parents and teaches them simple science demonstrations and math games, which they in turn can use to entertain and educate their children.
The channel, Mr. Lamb’s Science Corner, was born when Lamb was asked to create videos for teachers whose classes could not participate in STARBASE — a Department of Defense program for fifth grade students centered around fun and engaging STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education.
While all fifth graders who attend Klamath Falls schools get to participate in STARBASE, not all fifth grade students in the Portland area could participate at the time, Lamb explained. So Mr. Lamb’s Science Corner was created to pass on STEM ideas to the teachers whose students were missing out on STARBASE. While he taught through STARBASE for a year, Lamb emphasized that he has no official connections to the program.
Eventually Lamb decided to expand the target audience of his videos to parents looking for activities to engage their kids. Three years later, he continues to make science and math videos on a regular basis. His channel now boasts over 60 videos — the perfect way for parents to get ideas about how to keep homebound youngsters (and themselves) entertained.
Creating the videos is a family affair. Lamb said his wife, Jean, “is the cameraperson and advisor,” while his son, Brian, “does the editing and all the technical stuff.”
Lamb explained part of his thinking behind making parents the audience, rather than filming for children directly. “Kids expect to see Bill Nye the Science Guy and that really isn’t me. And I don’t have the budget. I quickly realized that fifth grade teachers and parents are in the same boat — no budget.”
Some of the Science Corner lessons require no materials at all. When materials are necessary, they are always inexpensive. Lamb said he buys things from the Dollar Tree or uses things that are already found around the house.
Asked where he gets his ideas, Lamb joked, “As a teacher, you learn to steal from everybody — we call it research.” Some of his inspiration came from attending National Science Teaching Association conferences; he has traveled to Seattle, New Orleans, Los Angeles and Portland for that purpose. Other videos were influenced by information Lamb gleaned from Flinn Scientific, which offers books covering a range of science demonstrations.
One of Lamb’s favorite demonstrations involves mixing baking soda and vinegar in a bowl, which forms carbon dioxide gas. A second bowl is set up with a lit tealight candle inside. The demonstrator uses a cup to “scoop up” the invisible gas and then pours it on the candle. The dense gas displaces the oxygen surrounding the candle, extinguishing the flame.
Sometimes Lamb’s videos focus on scientists of note. One of his favorites, he said, is Linus Pauling, not only because Pauling was “an Oregon boy” and received a degree from Oregon State, but because of one of his major contributions to society in the 1950s. After Pauling won the Nobel Prize for chemistry, Lamb explained, he used his newfound “gravitas” to educate people about Strontium-90, a radioactive isotope that was falling on the ground in sites around the U.S. where the government was performing nuclear testing.
Lamb noted that Pauling alerted people to the fact that the radioactive material had — after nuclear fallout from the testing — come into contact with grass that was eaten by cows, causing it to leach into the cows’ milk, which was consumed by children all over the U.S. The radiation was giving many children cancer. Pauling’s call to action eventually led the U.S. to change its nuclear testing protocol.
Lamb emphasized that he does not try to give parents the full biography of a scientist through a video but focuses on the facts people will likely find interesting. In this way, he hopes to pique the interest of young minds so that kids may want to do further research into the scientists on their own.
Lamb’s hope for the videos is simple — that they give parents and kids an activity to do together and that kids enjoy it.
A teacher by nature, Lamb said he was teaching long before it was his profession, back when he was in second grade helping other students with their reading. Making videos to help spark kids’ interest in math and science is just as enjoyable for him as he hopes it will be for them. And in his retirement, he said, “This allows me to do more teaching.”