A weatherman’s COVID-19 brainstorm

The science of keeping kids entertained

It was another day in quarantine, and 5-year-old Sawyer was bored. He wasn’t going to school, he couldn’t hang out with his friends, so he and his dad pulled out a book of 50 science experiments made for kids that Sawyer had received as a gift — and began trying them out. The first project was a wind vane. And that’s when his dad got an idea.

Sawyer’s dad happens to be Mark Holley, chief meteorologist for Gray Television’s WSAW, in Wausau, Wisconsin. His dad’s idea: a new twice-weekly series on Facebook Live called “Mark’s Weather Classroom.” But it’s not really about the weather: instead, the meteorologist turns mad scientist to teach a variety of low-budget experiments to all the kids in his community who wish to watch.

“I try to pick experiments that most people would have in their home,” Holley said. “[It’s] just something to do in this day and age where, you know, close quarters, close walls, parents are looking for something fun to do. Maybe this gives them a five, ten-minute break to try something with their kids.”

Many of the experiments are weather-related, like making clouds appear in jars. But others include blasting off balloon rockets or creating silver eggs.

Holley, who has Sawyer and also an almost 2-year-old named Reid, is no stranger to showing off science to kids. He used to travel around local schools — usually using Sawyer’s book to guide him — to inspire children to get involved with science.

Mark Holley’s sons Reid, 2, and Sawyer, 5

But now that these lessons are taped — no repeats allowed! Holley comes up with a new DIY experiment every Monday and Friday.

One hitch: many of Holley’s viewers are under 13 years old — the minimum age for a Facebook account. So he also uploads his videos to the WSAW website. Holley also posts the necessary supplies for the experiment, usually the night before, so families can watch in real time, already prepared. And perhaps most important: Holley makes sure to test the project with Sawyer first.

“I always pre-test the day before with my 5-year-old to see if he can do it…If he can do it, I can do it,” Holley said. Then, “I usually borrow any reporter who is around [to tape the segment],” Holley said, ticking off the names of the co-workers who help.

Not all the experiments are from Sawyer’s book, either because they’re too hard or they take longer than the 5-10 minutes Holley wants to stick to. He hopes that in the future, his viewers will send in their own ideas for experiments. Holley says he will continue with the “classroom” into the foreseeable future.

“I hope to go as long as I can, and hopefully the kids learn something new,” Holley said. “And if I pique a kid’s interest into science, then it’s a job well done. If we don’t…we have another [experiment] coming later in the week.”

Do you know an anchor, reporter or meteorologist who is creatively using social media and deserves to be featured in our next Social Media Spotlight? If so, email us at cronkitenewslab@asu.edu and we’ll check out the story.

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