Children peering into their futures – this is rocket science

Published: Monday 5th December 2016
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Exploring science and health professions helps children in underprivileged neighborhoods expand possibilities


Sumala Heinze still remembers the day she learned about the Weekend School in her fifth-grade class. After school, she dashed home to get her mother’s signature on the permission slip. “I never ran so fast,” she recalled. “And I just put it there and said to my mom, ‘Just sign please – just sign!’

So on a recent Sunday at the IMC Weekend School in Amsterdam, the children learned about astronomy and rocket science from a researcher and an engineer.

With Dr. Marcel Vonk, a researcher and outreach officer for the Institute of Physics at the University of Amsterdam, students learned about gravitational waves and black holes. “A black hole is really a very heavy star,” Dr. Vonk explained, speaking in Dutch. “It’s so heavy that not even light can escape, which makes it very hard because with no light, you cannot see it.”

“The students are very enthusiastic, but at the same time, they keep you sharp,” said the other guest teacher, Alexander Maas, a thermal engineer for Airbus Defense and Space. “If you don’t engage with the students, they turn you off – or they tell you straight up, ‘This is boring.’”


Students launch their bottle rockets using a bicycle pump and launch pad.

No one used the b-word or nodded off during their lessons on this Sunday. In his session, Maas helped students put the principles of aerodynamics into practice. They built rockets from plastic soda bottles and launching them outside with the help of a bicycle pump.






Hands-on learning with the pros is the idea behind the Weekend School, an extracurricular program for children in underprivileged neighborhoods, many from immigrant backgrounds. For the 3-year course, professionals in a wide range of fields volunteer to introduce students to their careers with hands-on activities.



How the schools work

Funded by corporations and other organizations, the Weekend Schools rely largely on volunteers. Staff coordinators train guest teachers to develop lessons and teach classes, where they are assisted by staff, alumni and other volunteers.

Some of the classes are on site, and others take students into the field. During the Health unit, students visited a hospital, used stethoscopes to monitor their pulses and even helped perform pregnancy ultrasounds.