The program, headed by Mississippi College’s John Hunt, took place in the gym, where more than 30 science experiments were set up in stations. Fifth-graders were put into groups of three and visited the stations one at a time, rotating every four minutes.
“We are getting them to think critically,” Hunt said, “Many of the experiment results are counter-intuitive, meaning they turn out much differently than the students expect them to.”
At one station, Susan Moore set ice cubes on two black coasters. One coaster was metal, cool to the touch, the other styrofoam, warmer to the touch. On which coaster did the ice cube melt?
It wasn’t the warm one.
“Metal is a conductor and pulls energy from the air, which melts the ice cube,” Moore said, “but styrofoam is an insulator and deflects energy.”
Moore isn’t a scientist or a science teacher. She is the mother of a Saltillo Elementary School fifth-grader, and one of the 60 or so parents manning stations around the gym.
The parents received lessons of their own the night before, when they gathered at the school and Hunt walked them through each experiment, making sure they could teach it thoroughly. The idea is the parents learn strategies for teaching their kids at home.
“When parents get involved, they model an interest in learning, which the kids mimic,” said Jill Daniel, a science teacher at the school.
The science teachers were facilitators, moving groups of kids in and out of the gym and relieving parents for short periods of time.
Daniel said it was easy to determine the kids were engaged in the activities, because even though there were around 80 kids in the gym, it wasn’t very loud.
“Science, I can usually take it or leave it,” said fifth-grader Clare Roberson. “In class we read and learn from what someone else has done, but today we get to learn it firsthand.”
“It’s a lot more exciting,” said Clare’s classmate, Reed Emison.“We learn it so much better when we see the real thing.”
Hunt helped develop the program in 1996 and began with eighth-graders instructing third- graders. The program has gone well ever since, he said.
“All of these experiments are based on the curriculum required by the state, and the Common Core standards,” he said. “We just took those standards and made them hands-on.”
The program tours 21 schools across the state, but always kicks off with Saltillo. According to Hunt, 50,000 students have passed through the program since it was brought to Mississippi.