Hands-on learning: Science workshop helps Lee County instructors

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

MOOREVILLE – Lee County’s middle school science teachers became students last week.
About 15 educators gathered at Mooreville Middle School for the district’s Middle School Science Academy. For two days, they discussed their craft and worked through several experiments that they can take back to their classrooms.
The workshop was designed to help them adjust to Mississippi’s new science requirements and to allow them to try things they could use with students.
“We are required to increase the rigor of our curriculum because of the new state framework,” said Chris Conwill, a curriculum adviser for the Lee County School District who helped coordinate the workshop. “It can take a lot of time to research to find experiments that align with the new state framework.
“This is a way to help them come up with some good projects to get kids more involved in the classroom.”
The four experiments done by the teachers involved simple materials: rubber bands, balloons, washers, shoe boxes, wooden sticks, etc.
“You can use common items to do science and make it applicable for kids,” said Crystal Bigham, seventh- and eighth-grade science teacher at Plantersville. “That helps us when we are on a budget.”
In one of last week’s experiments, the teachers were told to design a car out of common household items that would be propelled by a single balloon. At the end of the day, they tested their machines and discussed what worked and what didn’t. The next day, they had to remake their cars, based on those experiences, for a race against the other teachers.
“You can explain it more easily to students if you’ve already done it,” Conwill said.
Surveying the landscape
In another experiment, teachers filled a shoe box with several rocks and other objects to create a landscape of sorts. They covered those boxes with aluminum foil to hide the contents and switched with a colleague.
The teachers poked a wooden stick through the aluminum foil in several spots and measured how deep it reached. They used this information to create a graph depicting the box’s contents.
The exercise is designed to simulate the way NASA uses radar to map planets or scientists use SONAR to determine how the ocean floor looks.
“Our main goal is to give kids more opportunities to problem solve and grow as students,” Conwill said.
After they completed each of their four experiments, the teachers would discuss what they did. Conwill said he wanted to emphasize the importance of post-lab discussions, which help students better understand what just happened.
That discussion can cover elements the students didn’t understand, reasons different groups got different results or why things happened as they did.
Mooreville eighth-grade science teacher Peggy Hussey said it was helpful getting ideas for new experiments to use in class.
“Day to day, we have so many students to handle that preparing for class can take all of our time, while we’re at school and while we’re away from school,” she said. “When they give us new ideas, it helps us to be able to better use our time.”
Guntown eighth-grade science teacher Trisha Holiman is in her first year teaching science after having taught English in the past. She said having a workshop focused on teaching the subject was helpful in her transition.
The teachers also were able to collaborate with the science teachers from other schools in the district. Conwill said next year, he’d like to have the teachers bring and discuss their favorite experiments.
“One of the important things we are learning with Toyota and other manufacturing businesses in the area is that these children need more science, technology and engineering skills,” Hussey said.
chris.kieffer@journalinc.com