Students at A+ Tutoring in San Juan Bautista will try their hands at creating magic by using exotic ingredients like mandrake fruit, Kraken venom, and powdered unicorn horn to create Divination Crystal Balls, Wizard Soup and Elixirs of Color during the fourth annual Potions Night on Oct 27-28.
What they may not realize is that they are really learning important concepts in physics and chemistry as they are producing dramatic scientific reactions and having fun in a Harry Potter-inspired setting.
“I love Harry Potter, and I love science,” said Liz Markfield, founder of A+ Tutoring. “My first love was science, even though I became an English major. And so, it was a natural thing for me to mix science and Harry Potter and Halloween—it just made it a perfect event.”
Markfield worked from home as a tutor, but the increasing number of students became too much of a burden for her to handle from her house. She began working with her friend Bonnie Ramirez, who also was a home tutor, to find a permanent location for a business they could run together and A+ Tutoring was born. Now with over 120 students ranging from kindergarten to 12th graders, Markfield likes to mix a little fun into the curriculum and experiments she has done with her students are the basis for the Potions Night event.
“I love seeing the growth of the kids,” Markfield said, “especially students that have learning disabilities. I love seeing when the light bulb goes off, and they get excited about learning. I really wanted to encourage them towards a goal, so that they would be doing it and not even realize that they were actually kind of doing homework.”
During Potions Night, Markfield uses simple—and safe—science with ingredients given mystical names to create her effects. The mandrake fruit, bug slime, and ogre sweat used to create Divination Crystal Balls are dry ice, warm water, and dish soap that make an enormous bubble that grows out of a cauldron. Another version, Boo Bubbles, uses a machine to make smaller bubbles the students can interact with.
Vinegar and baking soda, AKA pond water and powdered unicorn horn, are used to make a glove slowly and mysteriously inflate as the gases created by the two substances combine.
The students watch Markfield perform each experiment, then with guidance and their own safety equipment, they are allowed to replicate it. The more hazardous materials, such as dry ice, are handled exclusively by Markfield.
Potions Night has evolved over the last four years, with some experiments added and some removed.
“The first year, we did a basilisk experiment with confectionery sugar and baking soda,” she said. “You light it up, and this black snake kind of forms. We don’t do that one anymore—especially with the fire department next door. And we also had a fog machine, but it set off the fire alarm. They were both nice experiments with chemical reactions, but we don’t do them anymore.”
Ten-year-old Cristian Landeros attended the event last year and said that it was “kinda steamy” but a lot of fun.
“The best experiment was the Boo Bubble one,” he said. “You make the bubbles, and they float in the air, and you can hold them. They were a little soft, like jello, but really light. It was so much fun and I want to go again.”
Potion Night tickets for Oct. 27 are sold out but tickets are still available for Oct. 28, which starts at 6 p.m. A+ Tutoring is located at 225 6th Street in Hollister.
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