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Woodland Primary School students learn science concepts

Lesson came from a circus performer during OMSI’s ‘Gollyology’

WOODLAND — Rhys Thomas, a performer who uses juggling and circus tricks to teach science, visited Woodland Primary School to perform “Gollyology,” a show he developed in partnership with the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) to inspire young minds to learn more about science.

Thomas Thomas taught students gyroscopic stability by spinning a parasol while balancing a ball on top of it. Photo courtesy of the Woodland School District
Thomas Thomas taught students gyroscopic stability by spinning a parasol while balancing a ball on top of it. Photo courtesy of the Woodland School District

Thomas taught students scientific concepts including gravity, gyroscopic stability, rotational mass, friction, balance and more. “Jugglers get a lot from science — everybody gets a lot from science,” he taught the students. “Using science can help you learn more about any topic that interests you and help you learn new skills, too.”

A master of multitasking, Thomas performs multiple tricks at the same time while also teaching his lessons. By spinning a parasol while keeping a spinning ball balanced on top of it, he explained gyroscopic stability, “If you take two objects and spin them together, you use gyroscopic stability — the spinning makes the objects stay stable.”

Thomas Thomas uses tricks and props, like this rendering of a 4,000-year-old cave drawing, to teach students about science. Photo courtesy of the Woodland School District
Thomas Thomas uses tricks and props, like this rendering of a 4,000-year-old cave drawing, to teach students about science. Photo courtesy of the Woodland School District

Thomas used tops to teach students about rotational mass and a variety of juggling props to demonstrate how jugglers use math to develop tricks. “Jugglers can perform multiple different spins, but we use the Math of Juggling to figure out the trick,” he said. “Jugglers use singles, doubles, triples and quadruples during their performances, but getting them all to work together requires using math to plan the trick in advance.” Using student volunteers, Thomas taught concepts like balance and even helped students spin balls on their fingertips.

Thomas brought a myriad of props for tricks as well as some for lessons. He presented students a rendering of a drawing found in a 4,000-year-old cave depicting women juggling. “Juggling may be one of the oldest performance art forms,” he said. “Archaeologists found this 4,000-year-old cave painting showing women juggling — juggling really is that old.”

Thomas Thomas travels the world giving performances and learning new tricks. Photo courtesy of the Woodland School District
Thomas Thomas travels the world giving performances and learning new tricks. Photo courtesy of the Woodland School District

Thomas designs his shows to provide entertainment for audiences of all ages, much in the same way Disney’s Pixar creates movies with jokes for adults sprinkled in themes all ages can enjoy. “I purposefully create family entertainment to entertain the entire family and get everyone into it, not just kids,” he said. “I want to be the Pixar of juggling and circus trick shows where everyone in the family can have a good time.”

Although Thomas lives in Portland, he performs all over the world using circus tricks to teach science in seven countries and throughout the United States. “I genuinely enjoy the energy of children and I like to travel,” he said. “I also love seeing the curiosity in the faces of my audience members.” To keep himself motivated and inspired, he seeks out new tricks during his travels and then works to perfect them. “I like working on something I can’t do,” Thomas said. “My favorite trick is whatever new one I’m trying to learn.”

Thomas Thomas, a professional circus performer and juggler, used tops to teach Woodland Primary School students about rotational mass. Photo courtesy of the Woodland School District
Thomas Thomas, a professional circus performer and juggler, used tops to teach Woodland Primary School students about rotational mass. Photo courtesy of the Woodland School District

As a performer, challenges certainly present themselves. Thomas explained that getting his brain to shift from one activity to another can provide some difficulty at times. “Believe it or not, one of my biggest challenges is going from driving to the show to actually juggling in the show,” he said. “Getting my brain to go from one activity to a completely different one that uses different thought processes requires some effort.”

In order to make sure he’s bringing his unique charismatic energy to his shows, Thomas uses a simple trick — smiling. “Smiling reprograms your brain and releases endorphins that make you happy,” he said. “In addition, smiling is contagious; I think the whole world would get along better if we all remembered to smile more.”

Thomas Thomas helps student volunteers perform tricks, too, by explaining how to manage rotational mass, gravity and other scientific forces. Photo courtesy of the Woodland School District
Thomas Thomas helps student volunteers perform tricks, too, by explaining how to manage rotational mass, gravity and other scientific forces. Photo courtesy of the Woodland School District

Thomas received a degree in journalism with a teaching certificate in language arts from the University of Oregon, but he didn’t discover his love for teaching students until he saw an educational show at a science museum in Seattle. “I was working as a street performer and saw a show at the museum designed to teach kids using tricks,” he explained. “I knew I could do a better one, so I performed my own show in front of the museum and ended up with a bigger audience than the show I saw inside.”

To learn more about Rhys Thomas and see video clips of his performances as well as learn about Gollyology and Jugglemania, his company, visit his websites at www.jugglemania.com and www.sciencecircus.org. To learn more about OMSI and their mission to inspire curiosity through interactive scientific experiments, visit their website at www.omsi.edu.

Thomas Thomas closed his performance at Woodland Primary School with a finale, juggling multiple items while balancing on a tightrope. Photo courtesy of the Woodland School District
Thomas Thomas closed his performance at Woodland Primary School with a finale, juggling multiple items while balancing on a tightrope. Photo courtesy of the Woodland School District

Information provided by Woodland School District.

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