COVID-19 won't stop the 'Mad Scientists' Club'

Joe GelfinbeinPhoto/Mike Lovett

Joe Gelfinbein '21

It's called the Mad Scientists’ Club.

Every week, Joseph Gelfinbein '21 co-leads an after-school activity session in Waltham where he helps elementary-school age kids conduct experiments that result in fun end products like lava lamps, malleable putties or a gooey substance fondly called “elephant toothpaste."

Since the Mad Scientists’ Club can’t meet in person with the students due to the pandemic, Gelfinbein has had no choice but to adapt. 

He and the other coordinators of the program, Aaron Kalpakian ‘21 and Vaishali Kaushal ‘24, use Google Classroom to lead 3rd through 5th graders through experiments that involve small-scale chemical reactions and lots of food coloring.

The club is under the rubric of the Junior Brandeis Achievers (JBA), a volunteer effort led by Brandeis students at the Thomas R. Plympton Elementary School. 

For activities in the Mad Scientists Club, supplies have to be sorted, measured, individually packaged, stored at Brandeis, and then delivered to Plympton for students to collect alongside their schoolwork. 

The school has asked supplies only be delivered twice a month. As a result, Gelfinbein can no longer present an activity’s supply list to JBA Coordinators a week before they’re needed. 

He now writes his lesson plans nearly a month in advance and, along with the rest of the JBA staff, stays up all night packaging supply kits. 

Although it is not what he’s accustomed to, Gelfinbein looks forward to his weekly, 90-minute long Google Classroom meetings with his budding scientists, whom he describes as “very cute and excited.” 

He sees great value in sharing the childhood experiments he enjoyed most with these young children and considers himself lucky to still be able to do so. 

“I was worried that JBA wouldn’t do the Mad Scientists Club this year because a lot of clubs have been canceled,” Gelfinbein said.

Fortunately, JBA is still up and running. In fact, this year it saw an increase in volunteers. The virtual version shaved about two hours off the program’s weekly time commitment, making this volunteer opportunity more accessible to Brandeis students. 

Gelfinbein credited JBA’s coordinators with working harder than ever to keep the program going and maintain at least some normalcy. He also acknowledged the students’ role in keeping the program afloat. 

While the logistics of the program have changed, Gelfinbein’s Mad Scientists' experiments have not. Upon comparing experiments from previous semesters with those conducted now, Gelfinbein found more similarities than differences. He takes pride in helping conserve the tradition of elementary school science experiments in a time when it could have very well been lost.

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