Iron Science Teacher Excites Audiences, Celebrates Teaching
by Shannon Eliot • June 18, 2015
Contestants compete in a 2014 episode of Iron Science Teacher. (Gayle Laird/Exploratorium)
When you hear “science demonstration,” what pops to mind? Chances are you picture batteries, copper wire, and washers.
But what about Cheerios? Or eggs? Or...feminine hygiene products?
Don’t think those items have any science hidden in them? Think again.
For more than 18 years, the Exploratorium has been thrilling the public by showing the world how science exists all around us — even in the most mundane and seemingly unremarkable everyday objects — through its science demo competition show Iron Science Teacher.
Parodying Iron Chef, the cult Japanese culinary competition TV show that debuted in 1993, Iron Science Teacher is designed to challenge science instructors to use everyday objects to produce fun and innovative demonstrations for students of all ages. Of the handful of shows produced every year, three involve contestants pulled from the Teacher Institute, the Exploratorium’s summer intensive for science teachers.
Each episode starts with the introduction of four contestants. Shortly thereafter, the host reveals the much anticipated “secret ingredient” — an everyday item that will be used in the upcoming demonstration — to contestants and fans alike. Each competitor gets 10 minutes to prepare a demonstration with the secret ingredient to wow the audience.
One hour later, one well-deserving contestant is crowned Iron Science Teacher by the audience.
Julie Yu, Director of the Teacher Institute and host of Iron Science Teacher, loves the show because it celebrates teaching, which she thinks as a society we don't do enough.
“People are actually cheering because of how good a job the contestants are doing teaching, which doesn’t normally happen in their profession,” she said. “The show provides an opportunity for teachers to be celebrated for teaching. We explicitly honor and celebrate teachers this way. It’s about entertainment, but it’s also fundamentally about teaching.”
All episodes are available online and streamed live from the Exploratorium's Webcast studio. The show is also open to the public and welcomes children and adults alike to sit in the audience.
While Julie and I could have chatted for hours about the highlights and history of Iron Science Teacher, I asked her about what she hopes participants — both contestants and audience members — will take away from the experience.
“We never stop celebrating teachers,” she said. “And science education doesn’t have to be fancy. You will never find Robotics as the secret ingredient. There is always a method that is affordable and accessible.”
Catch Iron Science Teacher online or in-person at the Exploratorium on the following dates: