It's not often that you can support science education in public schools by enjoying wine, but this weekend's Science of Wine social, dining and learning extravaganza in many sites around Ashland will do just that.

It's not often that you can support science education in public schools by enjoying wine, but this weekend's Science of Wine social, dining and learning extravaganza in many sites around Ashland will do just that, with proceeds going for transportation to get 12,500 students to ScienceWorks — or to get ScienceWorks instructors to them.

The popular hands-on museum for kids (which adults also enjoy immensely), used to do morning and afternoon shifts of eager children, but, in the current economic downturn, it's doing only mornings, says Shannon Troy, ScienceWork's school visit coordinator and educator.

"Most kids in school don't get to do experiments and so the trip to ScienceWorks — they're allowed only one a year — is huge," says Troy. "Some are good in science and some know absolutely nothing about science. But the great part is, after a day here, they realize science can be fun and most want to come back."

The sixth annual Science of Wine runs Friday through Sunday, features tastings, food pairings, a winemaker's dinner — and goes far beyond that — into seminars covering siting, planting, harvesting, winemaking, bottling and other subjects.

Admission to ScienceWorks doesn't begin to cover its expenses, so, in addition to class visits on-site, two educators travel to schools in nine counties to teach kids — and to teach teachers how to teach science in fun ways with simple experiments.

"The Science of Wine is a great way to raise money and have fun at the same time," says Maddy DiRienzo, organizer of the wine event. "Wineries, restaurants, hotels, the theater — everyone steps up and keeps our costs down so we can keep more of the money for education of the kids."

Taking his Rogue River Middle School class through ScienceWorks this week, teacher Kevin Donnelley said, "It gives them a practical sense of what science means in their lives. They get to observe science as entertainment. It shows them the fundamentals and captures their excitement in so many areas — music, art, even aerodynamics. They don't get this on a computer screen in a classroom."

One of his seventh-graders, Sebastian Escovar — after checking a digital read-out on how fast he could throw a baseball — said, "There's so much to do here. You get to understand how stuff works, like why I can stick my hand inside a big soap bubble."

Says Troy, "They're like little sponges, really. There is so much they can and want to learn and such a limited time frame."

The school visits to ScienceWorks are more than a field trip, says ScienceWorks educator Skoshi Wise, as she finished teaching a session on the states of matter (solid, liquid, gas). It's comprehensive. They get lab, hands-on experience that supports teachers and is correlated to state standards.

"And they get a live science show — the wowie part of science — that teachers may not be able to do because of fire, chemicals or such cautionary things."

The off-site visits, called "An Illuminating Science Enquiry," are supported by the Educational Service District and help students progress through an entire lesson and learn how to formulate a hypothesis based on what they observed, says Wise.

But late last year, as the "budget scare" took hold, ScienceWorks staff started noticing a lot of cancellations of visits to the museum, says Wise, and, facing a $5 per child fee (often paid by the family or PTA), many Medford teachers cancelled all field trips

In addition to enhanced fundraising, ScienceWorks is studying the hiring of educators who live in the 24 school districts served by the program and won't have to travel far, she notes.

Reducing investment in science education in an economic downturn, in the long term, only feeds economic problems, says ScienceWorks Executive Director Mark DiRienzo.

"Everyone focuses on survival and basic needs, but you have to build your way out of a bad economy and you can only do that by educating scientists, designers and engineers, the creative part of industry — not just by teaching science and math."

The science education outreach, he adds, is a "great success, one of our proudest achievements" and significantly helps overworked school teachers.

The Science of Wine events and tickets are at www.scienceofwineashland.com

On Friday, the feature movie "Bottle Shock" will show, at $7.50, with a reception and wine tasting at Lithia Springs Hotel and a class on the differences between French and American wines. The event is $39.

On Saturday, you can ride a school bus to tour South Stage Cellars in Jacksonville and Roxy Ann Winery in Medford, with experts aboard and gourmet lunches from Lark's Restaurant in Ashland. It's $49.

The Wine Gala Saturday night draws 350 people and features wine tasting and hors d'oeuvres from 15 restaurants and wineries. There will be live music and a wine auction. It's $60 — or $50 for ScienceWorks members.

On Sunday, for $49, eight Wine Basics classes are taught at ScienceWorks (pick maximum of four). Sunday evening is a Winemaker's Dinner at Winchester Inn. It has tapas and wine, with the winemakers for $59.