Inciting students' interest in science After-school program originating in county being used nationwide

September 24, 1997|By Erin Texeira | Erin Texeira,SUN STAFF

Hoping to make day care more than glorified baby-sitting, National Geographic and Sylvan Learning Systems have launched a national after-school program that they pioneered in Howard County.

The program, called MINDSURF, takes ideas from National Geographic -- the magazine and the television programs -- to teach children geography, history and social studies, using activities children enjoy.

Piloted last year at Mount View Middle School in Marriotsville and eight other schools in the Baltimore area, MINDSURF prompts youngsters to craft native American pottery and explore the mysteries outer space while learning culture and history lessons designed by the National Geographic Society.

The program is under way in at least 17 middle and elementary schools in the region -- nine in Howard County. Negotiations are in progress with 16 more. MINDSURF started this fall in California, Colorado and Washington state.

"I know other organizations have after-school programs, but they really aren't structured," said Lisa Racine, the sixth-grade social studies teacher at Mount View who runs MINDSURF there.

"But this has more of an educational slant," she said. "It's not just playing with a computer or with clay -- we're trying to put it in the cultural or scientific context of how is this fun."

Baltimore-based Sylvan, the country's largest private tutor, conceived the program last fall for children who do not have supervision after school. It was tested this spring.

National Geographic crafted the program's so-called explorations, activity themes with names like "Lost in Space," "Desination: Africa" and "Animal World" that last about two weeks each.

"These are things typically incorporated into National Geographic shows," said Mary Striegel, a spokeswoman for Sylvan. "But this is not just watching. It's learning and hands-on stuff, too."

National Geographic gives each participating school two Windows '95-equipped computers with CD ROMs, a color printer, television and videocassette recorder, portable compact disc player and cassette player, video camera, digital camera and software.

The electronic goodies make a difference: Although middle school children often resist after-school programs, most children signed up for MINDSURF seem sold on the fact that they are not obligated to participate in any of the activities and that the program is stocked with the choicest of high-tech toys.

Said Allison Davis, a sixth-grader at Mount View: "This place is fun! It's a lot better than elementary school after-care. It's more mature and interesting."

Children have full access to everything.

"I'm building a landscape right now," said John Mink, a Mount View sixth-grader who used a computer program called Sim City to "build" a custom city one recent afternoon. "I have this program at home but this one is much better -- it has way more stuff."

Any school in counties where it is offered can sign up for the program, provided free to schools. Parents pay, on average, $15 a day and financial aid is available, Striegel said.

The program is also offered in Baltimore and in Montgomery County.

In Howard, the program is in place only at middle schools: Burleigh Manor, Dunloggin, Ellicott Mills, Oakland Mills, Owen Brown, Mount View, Patapsco, Patuxent Valley and Wilde Lake, Striegel said. Fifty-nine students are enrolled in Howard, but all programs, which take as many as 30 students each, have space available. Each group has three MINDSURF staff members, at least one of whom is a certified teacher.

The after-school activities are, first and foremost, meant to be fun, MINDSURF staff members say. And each theme includes physical activities: The unit on Australia includes discussions on the culture and history of the country along with games that use a child-safe boomerang.

"Did you know we have a video camera here that you can use?" Racine asked three sixth-grade girls.

The camera will be used later in the year during a unit called "Lights, Camera, Action" in which students will learn about movie-making and will produce an original commercial.

Allison Davis and Meredith Schaffer, their hands orange with clay they had used to mold pottery and a sculpted mermaid, scrambled to look at the camera.

"Really? A camera?" squealed their friend, Jessica Coleman, who was busy weaving string into a bracelet with traditional Mexican patterns. "Wow. I like this program."

Pub Date: 9/24/97

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