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Sometimes hands-on education gets gooey

What starts out gooey and sticky, ends up rubbery and smooth, and comes in pink, blue, purple or green? It”s gak, of course, a silly putty-like substance made by nearly 900 fourth-graders at the recent CALS Day for Kids on April 26.

The boisterous event unfolded beneath the rafters of the UW-Madison”s Stock Pavilion, featuring 21 booths that were designed and staffed by members of various College of Agricultural and Life Sciences student organizations. The event was organized by the CALS student council.

At the booths, third- and fourth-graders from Dane County schools participated in a wide range of fun and educational demonstrations, from petting baby pigs and lambs to extracting DNA from wheat germ and planting wildflower seeds.

Katherine Gielissen, a sophomore majoring in biochemistry, led students through the process of making gak. To each new group of students, she announced: “Now, you are going to do your own chemical reaction!” Using a popsicle stick, students mixed together Elmer”s glue, food coloring, and a dilute solution of Borax cleaner. Just a few minutes of stirring yielded the desired colorful, non-toxic glob of matter.

Students unfamiliar with the term gak, like those in Michael Truman”s fourth-grade class at East Side Elementary in Sun Prairie, preferred to call the stuff “slime” and “cool goop.”

CALS Day for Kids was just one of many student-run events held during CALS Week, an annual seven-day affair where teams composed of CALS students, staff and faculty compete for prizes by participating in various activities, including a volleyball tournament, a blood drive, and the CALS Olympics.

“CALS Week is a nice way to foster interactions among CALS students in a fun, social and educational way,” says Christina Klawitter, the CALS assistant dean of academic student affairs.