Inventive science classes capture pupils' interest

Spiders: Summer school at Seneca Elementary features innovative four-week sessions focusing on bugs and inventors.

July 23, 1999|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Cymphoni Hall has a thing for creepy crawlers.

When spider expert Dave Myers showed off a pink-toed tarantula at Seneca Elementary School in Bowleys Quarters yesterday, 7-year-old Cymphoni eyeballed the creature's hairy body and legs, enthralled by its alien look.

As part of Seneca teachers Rob Bartosch and Sean Hoffmaster's summer science program called "Creepy Crawlers," Cymphoni and 19 other youngsters got a chance to read up on insects and to touch, measure and feed them.

Pupils in the Creepy Crawlers program and those in a class called "Inventors and Inventions," taught by Seneca teachers Nicole Harmel and Nicole Sloman, will wind up four weeks of research with a project fair for family and friends at the school today.

Blessed with a state Challenge Grant -- worth about $200,000 a year for three consecutive years -- the Seneca teachers set up the summer classes to help incoming third- and fifth-graders sharpen their reading and writing skills through research using encyclopedias, books and the Internet.

The 40 pupils who participated received lots of individual attention -- something they might miss during the regular school year when teacher focus can shift to gifted children or those with special needs, Bartosch said.

The science programs were student-driven, he said.

"We asked kids what they wanted to study and they told us, `Bugs,' " Bartosch said. "We wanted to build on a theme they liked because some of the learning they do during the school year they're not interested in."

For the four teachers involved, including first-year teachers Harmel and Sloman, the opportunity to create a new course came with a heavy workload.

"We came up with all of this," said Harmel, flipping through a binder thick with notes. "I've saved everything so we can do it again next year."

A third class for incoming fourth-graders may be added next summer, school officials say.

The two teams created their science courses from scratch, coming up with fun ways to get children to use new knowledge in reports, poems and songs.

"It's not like we just write paragraphs but we make things like posters," said Inventors and Inventions student Kelly Green, 9. "It's been challenging because we had to do research projects."

Seneca students enjoyed field trips, art projects and rap songs. As part of the inventors class, students read about accidental inventions such as the leotard, named for a French acrobat, and chocolate-chip cookies -- a tale Kristin Moravec, 9, enjoys retelling.

"A lady wanted to make chocolate cookies, but she didn't have any bakers chocolate so she broke up pieces of chocolate instead," Kristin said. "She thought they would melt but they didn't."

Students in the Creepy Crawlers class watched butterflies emerge from cocoons and measured slimy earthworms they kept in a box of moist earth. On a field trip to Oregon Ridge Park, the children caught and studied insects such as a hummingbird moth, a creature with a fuzzy body that glows green in sunlight.

"I just like to learn lots," said Creepy Crawlers pupil Antwan Alston, 7. "In summer school we have fun in learning."

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