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Science lab gives students hands-on experience

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Jared Gordon would rather watch science happen than read about it in a textbook.

Gordon, 8, said Wednesday he believes that getting to conduct a scientific experiment helps him understand the process he is learning about. If he were not conducting experiments, then science would just be a word on a page in a book, and the scientific approach would be like a foreign language to the third-grader at Harper Elementary School.

But, he also said he is pretty happy his school is the only elementary school in Clayton County that has a fulfledged science lab.

"It makes me want to do more experiments when I grow older," said Gordon.

Harper Elementary started offering the science lab this year as one of the specials, or elective courses, for third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders. It was started by Sancia Berkley, one of the school's science teachers, as a way to let elementary-age children see science "from a different perspective."

Typically, elementary students are limited mainly to what their textbooks tell them about science.

"I asked around at different schools around the county to see if they had any tips," said Berkley. "I found there had been attempts to do something like this before, at other schools, but this was the first fully functioning science lab, with a certified teacher, in the county. The other schools had used paraprofessionals, or it was a team-taught class.

"I think funding has always been an issue. We use Title I funds to pay for our lab," Berkley added.

With the science lab at Harper, the students can take things a step farther by conducting experiments. Lynda Daniel, the principal at Harper Elementary, said the benefit of having the lab is "more students are excited about science." She also said the ideas students are coming up with for the school's science fair are getting more complex, as a result of having the lab.

On Wednesday, third-graders were in the lab, studying how the temperature of water affects the speed with which a piece of ice melts. Afterward, they discussed their results, and wrote down their reflections on the experiment.

"There are so many benefits to having this lab," said Berkley. "Rather than textbooks, it's actually hands-on, and they get to see how science affects their lives."

Berkley said the experiments are designed to follow the Georgia Performance Standards for each grade level. Third-graders study different soil types, fossils, and the "mystery tube," which is a tube with four pieces of string sticking out of it. Students have to figure out why string on one of the tube disappears, when string on the other end is pulled.

Fourth-graders learn about ecosystems, the water cycle, weather, and states of matter. As part of their lessons, Berkley decorated the room like a jungle, with stuffed snakes, zebras, tigers, apes, and monkeys spread around the room. The apes and monkeys hang from green and brown strings, which drape from the ceiling and simulate vines.

Fifth-graders study land erosion, how to clean water, and chemical and physical changes. Berkley said the fifth-graders also learned how to create small volcanoes using empty film canisters, crushed antacid tablets, red food coloring and corn syrup.

Berkley said she plans to begin bringing second-graders into the lab this spring.

"I'm going to have them come in and do some mini-experiments to get used to being in a lab environment," said Berkley. "That will help them be prepared when they get to the third grade."