It’s the all-time favorite elementary school assembly where kids learn that with physics they can do anything! Hoisting 200 pounds (like their principal or the portly Dr. Quark) over their heads, lifting over a half-ton of classmates, or throwing a crash test dummy over 8 feet high is simply a matter of understanding Kinetic Energy, Potential Energy, Friction, and Simple Machines (pulleys, levers, and screws are demonstrated).
While the parents attending the Cambridge Science Festival may remember seeing Dr. Quark get thrown over Shaq’s head 20 years ago, because this IS the same Dr. Quark that they remember, he’s gotten older and is no longer entering low earth orbit during every show. However, despite this compromise in the presentation, the kids of the 21st century are just as thrilled with Slapstick Science as their parents were more than 2 decades ago.
Dr. Quark is the alter ego of Ted Lawrence, a veteran science teacher and circus performer. After majoring in engineering courses for three years, Lawrence changed his focus and was awarded his B.S. in Secondary Education and certification to teach math and physical sciences from the University of Vermont in 1985. He then went on to finishing school at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College in 1986. Starting with a meager background in performance, but strong skills in juggling, unicycling and acrobatics, Lawrence became a Slapstick Specialist and was awarded a contract with The Greatest Show on Earth. For the next two years he toured with the circus all over the United States. Lawrence was a “crash clown” doing many falls and acrobatics. Among other things, he was in a trampoline act and a mini-tramp act, so he was always very rambunctious. Yet he was also considered a “kid specialist,” and was therefore one of the clowns assigned to coax the timid little kids out onto the floor during the show.
Lawrence left the circus in 1988 and started teaching high school Chemistry full- time, even during the summers. Since then he has also taught Algebra, Physics, and AP Chemistry. Dr. Quark was created just for the fun of it on Halloween in 1988. He came to school as a substitute, much to the surprise and delight of the students. Although Dr. Quark’s unpredictable character couldn’t be expected to follow a lesson plan, Lawrence couldn’t justify losing a class day. So classes still happened, but they were accompanied by many unusual demonstrations, models made of twisted balloons, and plenty of outrageous antics. Quark was very well-received, and the kids learned the day’s lessons, so he ended up subbing on April Fool’s Day too.
Lawrence noticed that when kids see somebody ride a unicycle, lie on a bed of nails, do a flip off a teeterboard, or eat fire, they always ask, “How did you do that?”. The answer in every case has something to do with science. As a teacher, Lawrence was disappointed to find that kids shut off their curiosities in class. He could demonstrate some fascinating principle, and kids would simply ask, “Do we have to know that? Will it be on the test?”.
“I get the most satisfaction form teaching when the kids learn by asking their own questions and finding their own answers”, says Lawrence, “Tapping the curiosity they aren’t afraid to unleash at the circus is my best way of doing that. When I was a full-time teacher I’d get spectacular ideas for demonstrations, but no opportunity to develop them. Now, that’s my full time job, and I love it”.
Lawrence appears in schools from Philly to Maine to Syracuse. Besides his appearance at Cambridge Science FestivalLawrence has performed throughout the U.S. and Europe, China, Afghanistan, Russia, and at the White House. During the summer of 2011 he appeared in three different events over two weeks sponsored by the Singapore government to promote science literacy throughout Singapore.
“Much Work with Little Effort!” is just one of the five exceptional educational programs Slapstick Science offers to elementary schools. “Flight” is a historical journey through physics teaching the discoveries from the centuries preceding the Wright Bros. First Flight. “The Notion of Motion” teaches all about Newton’s Laws of Motion as well as how a “hypothesis” works and even delves into “units.” “Combustion!” is a thrilling Fire Safety program for third-graders and up, and “Kiddie Chem” is a romp through solids, liquids, and gases, and chemical reactions using exotic materials with non-toxic products.
For more information, see www.slapstickscience.com.
“Dr. Quark is the Super-hero of Physics!” -overheard on the playground at the Alice Peck School in Haddam, CT