The kids in the auditorium scamper from the front row, holding their hands over their ears, as Darryl Lee Baynes takes a blowtorch to a balloon.
Filled with a mix of hydrogen and oxygen, the balloon explodes, and the children look on in amazement.
Baynes, president of the Minority Aviation Education Association's Interactive Science Programs, drove 12 hours to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock from his home in Wheeling, West Virginia, to show inner-city children how fun science can be.
His goal? To encourage minorities to consider careers in STEM fields.
“I want to get kids thinking about science,” Baynes tells TakePart. “There’s all this talk about teaching to the test, but if you teach your kids to think, they can do those questions. You don’t have to remember stuff; you have to be able to think. That’s what I try to do in these presentations.”
Baynes, a former pilot, mixes humor and pop culture with chemicals and hypothesis to transform complicated science into entertainment—or as he calls it “edutainment.” He also weaves black history into his presentation to show students that some of the world’s greatest inventions—like the pencil sharpener—were created by African-Americans.
To immediately grabs the kids, he talks about their futures.
“There is a shortage of scientists and engineers in this country,” he tells them. “If you get a job as a petroleum engineer, you’ll make $100,000 to start. The more math and science you take, the more money you make.”
Baynes, with dreadlocks and earrings, shows them the famous picture of Albert Einstein sticking his tongue out. He explains that Einstein almost got kicked out of school, but that didn’t stop him.
“The next Einstein, or person who will change the world, may be sitting in this room,” he says.
During the next two hours, Baynes sets high expectations for the audience. He shows how to turn solids into a gas, using dry ice to make his point. He pulls kids from the audience to assist him with experiments that include freezing marshmallows in liquid nitrogen. He asks questions and makes it a point to have girls answer them, not just the boys.
He inhales helium and makes his voice sound funny. But Baynes quickly swerves from fun into serious, explaining the chemical compounds of helium.
“One part builds on another part,” he says. “I am always constantly asking questions, and by the time we build to the end, the kids are on the edge of the seats. That’s how schools should be—engaging and fun.”
Baynes says if teachers can’t teach science, technology, engineering, and math classes and make the subjects engaging, the STEM movement will fail. That’s why he also does workshops for educators.
“I can teach most science teachers—most, some just never get it—to do this,” he says. “They may know the content, but if they can’t make the connection with the kid, then the kids won’t learn. Teachers talk about classroom management problems, but you won’t have that if you teach this way. The kids will manage themselves if you know how to teach these subjects,” he says.
That was evident this week at Baynes’ workshop when kids told other kids to be quiet because they wanted to hear him. He says that he wants to work with more universities to teach STEM education to future teachers.
Baynes has another goal as well. He wants to create a community and science center in Wheeling, West Virginia, where rural and urban students—and even teachers—can learn STEM subjects. He owns a building, but needs funding, he says.
“There’s all this talk about STEM, but it’s going to take a lot of us to teach it,” he says. “If you look at statistics, a lot of our kids are doing fine, but it’s the underperforming kids that are pulling down the mean. Then it makes it look like the country isn’t doing well. It’s kids like those in rural West Virginia and the urban kids in Little Rock that need access to STEM education if this country is going to succeed.”