Inquiring Minds Want To Know

March 16, 1994|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,Contributing Writer

Kids ask the darnedest things. They want to know the answers to seemingly unanswerable questions.

They'll want to know how high grass will grow if nobody mows it. And what rocks are made of. And why the world is round. And why animals are playful when they're young and grouchy when they're old.

One teacher at Manchester Elementary School is helping his students find the answers to these and other questions through an enrichment program called Inquiry Science.

"Children are natural scientists," said Charles Pearce, a fifth-grade teacher. "They're asking questions from a very young age.

"Inquiry Science is a program where the kids explore answers to their own questions, especially testable questions, where they actually test something to find the answer."

The program provides the materials for students to conduct hands-on experiments in class and find the answers to questions that interest them, rather than just the required textbook learning.

"We're still addressing the Carroll County science curriculum, but Inquiry Science is actually an add-on to language arts because of the amount of reading and writing results of experiments," Mr. Pearce said.

To further fire his students' imaginations, as part of the program, Mr. Pearce today is taking a class of 28 fifth-graders to the University of Maryland at Baltimore County for the second annual Kids Inquiry Conference.

The conference was started last year as part of the National Science Foundation's Elementary Science Integration Project, a program that pulls reading and writing together with science, and in which Mr. Pearce is a participant.

"This isn't a competition, but it's just like an adult conference -- the students are there to learn from each other," Mr. Pearce said.

About 125 young scientists from Manchester, two Baltimore County schools and a Baltimore City school will participate in hands-on workshops, campus tours of science laboratories and visits with practicing scientists.

Some students will give presentations while others will simply observe. Additionally, groups of middle school students will offer a hands-on room with various other experiments.

Mr. Pearce's wife, Karen, a language arts teacher at Westminster West Middle School, will join the Manchester group with five of her students, who will offer participants a display of chromatography -- the study of colors and their components.

Ten of Mr. Pearce's students will make presentations at the conference. The remainder have signed up to attend sessions scheduled throughout the day.

Topics they will be studying include balloons and gases, making ice cream, sealed terrariums, diaper absorption, adhesives, electricity and water analysis.

Manchester students Stephanie Shertzer, Sandra Wentzel and Beth Gutierrez, all 10 years old, have been studying which diaper -- Huggies or Pampers -- is more absorbent. They concluded that Pampers absorbed water faster and better than Huggies.

"We found that Pampers had more dry lining than Huggies," said Stephanie. "We found by just looking at the two diapers Huggies was thinner and Pampers was thicker."

Greg Winebrenner, 10, compared the growth rate of grass and radish plants in a sealed terrarium and in an open cup. "I found that grass grew better sealed than in the cup," Greg said. "The radishes in the terrarium are growing faster but aren't as healthy, and the ones in the cup are growing slower, but they're healthier."

Douglas Steger and Anthony Pacelli, both 11, and Mark Smith, 10, experimented with creating new adhesives. Using seven different combinations of Elmer's glue, water, cornstarch, sugar, salt, starch and baking soda, the boys did find two formulas that worked.

But during a practice presentation Friday, Mr. Pearce pointed out to the boys that what they described as failures could be considered successful discoveries to someone else.

When the Inquiry Science program is completed, Mr. Pearce said the students will present their experiments and findings in a magazine format.

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