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PAISD students explore crude oil

BEAUMONT – Children and teens in the 1990s grew up wishing they could step inside their televisions to explore with Ms. Frizzle in “The Magic School Bus,” or to become a “way cool scientist” friends with the popular TV icon “Bill Nye the Science Guy.”

While The Texas Energy Museum doesn’t have a set like Nye Laboratories or a magical school bus to shrink patrons down to scale with molecules, it does have the Round Room — an animation theater that transports viewers through a refinery using the pipes that carry crude oil.

Thanks to the pilot program “Engineers in Classrooms” created by the Port Arthur Independent School District and Flint Hills Resources, nearly 80 Algebra I students got a guided tour with a modern-day Ms. Frizzle or Bill Nye through the Texas Energy Museum, the Art Museum of Southeast Texas and the Edison Museum in Beaumont Friday morning.

“We’ll need to shrink down to four inches tall to follow the oil,” a voice says over the speakers inside the Texas Energy Museum’s Round Room Friday. The image gets amplified to appear as if the students inside are small enough to fit through a pipe, and 26 Thomas Jefferson Middle School students yell, “Whee!” as if they’re in a log going over a waterfall as the oil flows through the animated pipe.

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The video “shrinks” them once more, down to molecular size so they can get a glimpse at a long hydrocarbon molecule. As the students learned in the beginning of their Energy Museum tour, hydrocarbons are most commonly found in crude oil and can form seemingly endless chains.

A girl in the front row says the molecular chain looks like a caterpillar as the video explains the chain is too large to fit through the refinery’s catalyst — depicted on the screen as a blue honeycomb pattern — and splits the molecule several times to make it fit. The sound of the snap that accompanies the split makes the students wince and gasp, until one loudly tells the video, “You don’t break atoms apart like that!”

Bruce Scott, a strategic reliability engineer with Flint Hills Resources, said watching the students interact and make connections is the most rewarding part of being one of the “Engineers in Classrooms.”

“One of the most important things is showing them all how important math and science really are,” Scott said as his group of students finished their tour of the Texas Energy Museum. “You use it in every day life, and it’s been so much fun watching them make these connections. The more knowledge and education you can get, the better off you’ll be in life.”

Erin Daly, a process control engineer with Flint Hills Resources, said her group of students responded to each of the three museums. They marveled at the sheer number of inventions in the Edison Museum and really connected with Port Arthur artist Harvey Johnson in the Art Museum of Southeast Texas, she said.

“Being the engineer that I am, I like the Texas Energy Museum the best because it takes it all back to the base level,” Daly said. “It explains the entire process from start to finish — from where the crude oil comes from to what products it makes. At Flint Hills and at other refineries, we only deal with a very small portion of the process. It’s nice to really step back and see that process from start to finish, and really look at what we do in the grand scheme of everything.”

Joel Guzman, a 13-year-old TJ Algebra I student, said he connected with each museum the group visited during the field trip Friday, but meeting Harvey Johnson was his favorite part of the day. Johnson was in the Art Museum of Southeast Texas Friday preparing for a reception of his work that evening, so he spoke to each group of TJ Middle School students as they came through.

“The one that really talked to me was the Art Museum,” Guzman said after he finished touring all three museums. “We talked to Mr. Harvey Johnson, and there’s one painting in there me and my friend really got into. He opened up our minds to a lot of things.”

Betty Jacobs, an eighth grade math and Algebra teacher at TJMS, said Johnson brought out a lot of emotions in her group of students.

“He’s really detailing how his work came about, and the kids are connecting with him on a level that surprises me,” Jacobs said. “His work is all inspired by his mother and centered around women. The very first one we looked at, ‘We Build Our Temple for Tomorrow,’ he talked a lot about the power of women and womanhood. He brought out a lot of emotions in our younger men — basically, giving why he respects women and encouraging them to do the same. It was something to watch. It was special.”

Jacobs said several of her students have told her “Engineers in Classrooms” has made them want to become engineers when they graduate high school.

Guzman said on the scientific side of things, he enjoyed shrinking down to four inches in the Texas Energy Museum Round Room and was inspired by the Edison Museum.

“They were saying Mr. Edison tried to make a light bulb 2,000 times,” Guzman said. “But he didn’t ever say he failed — just 2,000 attempts. I like that. Don’t quit, and don’t think of it as failing. Think of it as an attempt and then try again.”


This article was written by Chelsea Henderson from The Port Arthur News, Texas and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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