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Midway, N.D., school give students labs -- and lab coats

RURAL INKSTER, N.D. -- Three young scientists, all wearing slightly oversized lab coats, recently huddled around a paper plate covered in pepper and erupted into squeals.

Students do experiments with electrical charges
Third graders at Midway School near Inkster, including Danni Korynta, center, and Michael Fosca, participate with other "LabLearners" doing experiments with electrical charges this week. Jen Thompson teaches the class. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

RURAL INKSTER, N.D. -- Three young scientists, all wearing slightly oversized lab coats, recently huddled around a paper plate covered in pepper and erupted into squeals.

As if by magic, the black flecks floated effortlessly toward a balloon they hovered over the plate.

"Whoa! Are you serious?" exclaimed third-grade student Michael Fosca.

For several years now, students at Midway (N.D.) Public School have been learning about science through a variety of experiments that keeps them guessing and engaged, said third-grade teacher Jen Thompson.

So far, the school and districts in Page, Wimbledon and Fargo are the only ones using the LabLearner program in North Dakota, according to LabLearner.

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Midway adopted the program for its school before the federal push to get students interested in science and math careers, Thompson said.

However, students have become interested on their own -- the majority of the group that day said they loved the labs, and some even said they wanted to pursue a career in science.

Until then, students continue to do well on tests and find themselves better prepared to handle lab work once they enter high school. Mark Gehrls, high school science teacher, said they can comfortably use a microscope, balance and other equipment.

"In the past, you'd hand them a lab write-up to follow, and they'd had a hard time," he said. "But now they're probably better as far as knowing the procedure and work. They can work their way through somewhat independently."

Experiments

Each week, most students in kindergarten through eighth grade don their little lab coats, break off into groups and learn what happens when they drop an ice cube in oil or how to make clay float in water. Every sixth week, third through eighth-graders take a performance assessment and apply everything they learned.

The LabLearner program provides teachers with all of the science equipment, storage and other tools needed to carry off the experiments, all of which meet the state's education standards. Midway teachers, who were tasked with picking a new science curriculum five years ago, first heard about the program in Page, N.D., Thompson said.

Thompson, who is one of the more experienced LabLearner teachers, said it's been a great change for her third-graders, who never worked on labs like this before. In the past, they might have learned about the anatomy of a plant or compared butterflies with moths, but now they gain more in-depth knowledge of a subject, she said.

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"It's a lot more hands-on, and it's a lot more of just having a discussion with them about what worked in the lab, what didn't work," she said. "But the biggest thing is there's not a textbook. They're not sitting and reading."

Fun with science

On Tuesday, her students learned about the effects of electrical charges using balloons and wool.

In small groups, they discussed, predicted, observed and discovered. They tested their theories and only relied on their workbooks to read instructions or write down brief answers.

Like the rest of the class, Fosca and his lab mates, Emma Manzini and Danni Korynta, were delighted with what they were learning.

Korynta said she wants to be a scientist when she grows up.

"I want to learn about diamonds, to see if they're rocks or not," she said.

Manzini, who was momentarily charged with holding the balloon, said she wanted to learn more about nature. She has fun doing experiments like these because "you get to do stuff," she said.

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But it's more than that, said Thompson. Second and third-graders end up using a lot of calculations as they work through some of the experiments, and she hears them use the scientific language, she said.

Students clearly enjoy the lab experiments, and while they may not truly recognize the interest for what it is now, "as they get older, they'll gravitate toward it just because we've been using it so much," she said.

Call Johnson at (701) 787-6736, (800) 477-6572 ext. 1736 or send e-mail to jjohnson@gfherald.com .

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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