Beyond classrooms, books Science: A summer program aims to bring excitement for learning to two dozen schoolboys.

July 08, 1998|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Josh Jackson spotted telltale claw marks in the mud and knew he'd found his prize. With the precision of a hunter, the Middle River Middle School seventh-grader quickly swooped in with his net and came away with a tiny snapping turtle.

"A turtle. A turtle. I caught a turtle!" Josh exclaimed, his voice filling the woods next to the Gunpowder Falls in Hereford.

As others quickly gathered to see it, he and his fellow Middle River students displayed an emotion that often disappears from science classes when boys reach middle-school age: excitement.

It's an emotion that two Middle River teachers expect to see a lot of during a three-week program on the Gunpowder this summer. By the end, the teachers hope that two dozen of their male students will have developed a new interest for science and gained the skills to be leaders when classes resume in the fall.

"Something happens in middle school, particularly with boys, in which some students just get turned off from science and school," said Middle River special education teacher Jay Ward. "We want to turn that around."

For the past three years, Ward and Middle River science teacher Joe Davis have wanted to give an extra chance to boys who have an interest in science but may not do very well in class.

This summer, they're able to make it happen for the first time. The program costs about $10,000 for the summer, with the money coming from a Maryland Department of Education grant given to Middle River to help the school improve its performance on the state's annual exams, Davis and Ward said.

The students were charged $20 each to ensure that they had a small financial stake in attending each day.

Few of the students picked to enroll in the program excel in science at the school. Many earned "C's" this past school year, and a few even failed one or two quarters. The teachers say that giving the students three weeks of experience along the Gunpowder doing activities outside the classroom will inspire improved academic achievement in the fall.

"We needed to get them out of the 21220 ZIP code and show them something unfamiliar," Davis said, standing next to the Gunpowder on one side of the former Bunker Hill Road bridge. "These guys can see that science is more than just the textbook and classroom experiments."

The students -- mostly seventh- and eighth-graders, as well as four ninth-graders who serve as mentors -- began doing scientific field work last week along the river.

One group walked along the trails next to the river, charting the animal and plant life in the Gunpowder's "buffer zone" with such activities as taking plaster casts of deer tracks.

Other students took samples to analyze the cleanliness of the river, checking the content of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the water.

And a third group plunged into the stream. Some, like Josh, walked around with nets and searched for fish and reptiles. Others kicked up rocks to find the insects that are food for the Gunpowder's trout population.

They brought their minnows and mayflies back to a picnic table for examination under microscopes and magnifying glasses.

"I'm learning how to use stuff I never knew even existed," said John Brundidge, 13, who will be in eighth grade at Middle River this fall. "I've learned more this week about science than I learned in the whole school year."

Students will spend about half of the three-week program studying spots along the Gunpowder. They began last week just below the Prettyboy Reservoir and are working their way down.

The other days will be spent at the school listening to river experts, analyzing their data and preparing for a community presentation on the condition of the Gunpowder on July 17 at 6 p.m. at the school.

In the fall, the students will return to Middle River with new skills in science -- and the expectation that they will assume leadership roles for their peers.

"We'll be looking to help other students in our classes," said Greg Jones, 11, who will be in seventh grade this fall. "With everything we're learning here, we'll be able to show the other students a lot."

Pub Date: 7/08/98

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