GREECE — Christian Pietrantoni, a first-grader at St. Lawrence School, was dressed up as a robot March 3 and said that he could shoot lasers out of his eyes. However, when asked to demonstrate his optical powers, he said he was restraining from using them that day or else he might wind up burning down his school. However, when his eyes do shoot, they go “dzzzzz!” he said.
Christian also noted that he wanted to become a rocket scientist someday — “because you make a lot of money.” He pointed out that a rocket is currently traveling to Pluto, which he estimated was “10 billion miles” from the sun, but that his sister didn’t believe in the capabilities of the rocket.
“She thinks it will get too cold and turn to ice,” Christian said.
On Jan. 19, the New Horizons unmanned spacecraft blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Fla., to begin its decade-long journey to Pluto. Pluto’s average distance from the sun is less than 3.7 billion miles, so Christian was only off by about 6 billion miles or so. And scientists do think Pluto is an ice-rock, so Christian’s sister may be onto something.
Learning about inventions — such as the New Horizons spacecraft — and the people who made them was precisely the point of Read Across America Day March 3 at St. Lawrence, organized by Jeannine Fraser, school librarian. Students were asked to research inventions and then dress up as scientists, inventors or inventions, according to Joseph Holleran, principal. Holleran, who was dressed as Albert Einstein, noted that allowing children to role-play as scientists and inventors breaks down the image of science as difficult and dull.
“It’s really a creative process,” he said.
A sixth-grade science teacher himself, Holleran said today’s science classes include a lot of hands-on activities in order to spur students’ interest in the subject.
The students, many of them dressed in laboratory coats, seemed to take the day’s theme to heart. Kindergartner Keilei Latragna was dressed as a chef and said she knew how to make “ice whip” — ice cream with whipped cream. Her classmate, Aiden P. Rutherford, was dressed as “Professor Smart” and said he made toys.
Fifth-grader Bobby Ryan said he wants to be a robotics scientist someday, and brought a plastic foam model of a robot to school. The robot was called “JinkBot 3000,” short for Jenkins Is Notoriously Kool Because Of Tacos. The robot’s back was slung with a plate to serve tacos, and the robot itself was designed to run on one can of motor oil a month, Bobby said. The robot also could be used to clean your room and make your bed, he said.
Bobby noted that the “cool” dome head of his robot was concocted from materials his family had.
“My family’s kind of crafty, so we keep things in the basement,” he said.
Adriana Pierleoni, a third-grader, also apparently hails from a craft-loving family. With the help of her mother, Adriana designed a book with pages that have magnetic strips, enabling the reader to turn the pages with a magnet.
“I wanted to have a book that automatically flipped when I flipped the page,” she said.
Eventually, she said, she’d like to design a book that turns its pages in response to voice commands.
The students weren’t the only ones getting into the spirit of the day, as several teachers, parent volunteers and invited presenters also dressed up and gave presentations on inventions.
In the school’s music room, Lynne Belluscio, director of the Le Roy Historical Society, told the children that Jell-O gelatin dessert was invented in her Genesee County locale by Pearle Wait. He sold his formula to Orator Frank Woodward, whose marketing campaign succeeded in making Jell-O a household name, she noted.
In the school gym, Julie Crispino, whose daughter, Diana, is in sixth grade, gave a presentation on the history of various inventions. Assisted by Danette Vail, who has three children at the school, Crispino stood in front of several tables filled with such household items as computers, curling irons and clothing and spoke about the evolutionary process that led to certain inventions.
All inventions result from a desire to meet a need or want, and then from efforts to improve a device’s or item’s ability to meet that need or want, said Crispino, who sported a lightbulb on her head. For example, she said modern music-listening devices such as iPods are the end result of decades of improvements in record-playing technology that began with the phonograph. On a related note, she said, digital clocks evolved from ancient sundials.
Crispino noted that the phrase “to build a better mousetrap” embodies the spirit of inventiveness.
“You don’t have to invent something entirely new,” she told the students. “You just have to take that mousetrap and make it better.”