Science outside the classroom

Program gives elementary, college students connections to their curricula

December 07, 2008|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,Special to The Baltimore Sun

The group of about 125 elementary school children gathered at Harford Glen Environmental Education Center for a firsthand look at how the earth is formed.

They spent the school day outdoors testing the water, measuring contour lines and learning about land forms.

"Throughout the day, the children had a chance to see that science is not just in the classroom," said Pamela Lottero-Perdue, an assistant professor of science education at Towson University. "There is a big push for 'No Child Left Inside.' This program is a way to get children outdoors and get them engaged. It's a way to reinforce the concepts they learn in the classroom in an exciting way."

Lottero-Perdue is referring to a project offered through the elementary education/special education dual major program, a collaboration among Towson University, Harford Community College and the Higher Education and Applied Technology Center. The project allows Towson students to study in Harford County and complete their four-year degree.

"This is a powerful major," she said. "Students who graduate with the elementary/special education degree are extremely marketable. And Harford County, like everywhere else, needs qualified special education teachers."

The outdoor program comprises five stations connected to the third-grade curriculum unit called "The Changing Earth," which the Towson interns are teaching at Abingdon Elementary School under Lottero-Perdue's supervision.

The program was created as a way to get the interns to have an experience teaching outside the classroom, she said. Each station, co-developed by Lottero-Perdue and the 16 interns who are enrolled in the program, is connected to a unit of study in the curriculum.

The first station, taught by Lottero-Perdue, gave the kids a chance to create contour lines of elevations on a hill at Harford Glen. After they completed the project, they better understood how to read a topographical map, she said.

At the second station, students walked down to a sandy area by the water to gather wet and dry sediment samples. Then they carried their samples to picnic tables and viewed them through hand lenses and microscopes.

For the third station, the children poured water into water tables and looked at models of the streams. They then walked down to two streams, where they observed where and how the streams connected.

The fourth station had to do with land forms. The children took a short hike, during which they observed and discussed features of knolls, marshes, ponds and other land forms.

At Lottero-Perdue's station, the children learned how to use a level and map out contour lines to create a topographic map of a hill at Harford Glen.

Each student was given a task for the activity.

Matthew Wood, 8, held a stake with a piece of string tied to it. Sam Kincaid, 8, watched a gadget called a bull's eye. Bradley Sprinkle, 9, watched the level to make sure the measured line was even. And Nick Deloriers, 8, held the string as the group of youngsters mapped out the lines on the hill.

"This is not hard at all," Nick said as he held the string and walked backward up the hill. "It's easy."

The activity gave her students a chance to apply what they learned in the classroom, said Rebecca Meister, a third-grade teacher at Abingdon Elementary, who brought her students to participate in the program.

Another station included showing the children how to model sediment deposition using sand and water tables.

Megan Goetz, 20, manned a station where she taught children a better understanding of land forms including a pond, valley, marsh and a knoll.

Hannah Hieronimus, 9, said she thought the activity was fun.

"It's cool to see how the ponds are formed and how erosion works," she said.

Alyssa Carroll, 9, said she enjoyed her time outdoors.

"I ride my bike outside a lot," she said. "So I am always outside. I like doing science out here. I've learned how the earth changes."

The interns also learned during the outdoor lessons.

Stacy Mikanowicz, 21, said she learned how to deal with an entire class of students. Typically as an intern she works with groups of six children, she said. During this program, she worked with groups of 20 to 25 students at a time.

"I learned how to deal with the different personalities of the children," she said. "It was also a chance to do cooperative teaching."

Lottero-Perdue said she wanted to use the program as a way to get the interns accustomed to teaching outside of the classroom.

"I want my interns to see what it's like to organize something like this," she said. "I want them to see something novel and how it works."

Beyond the lessons and the teaching experience, it was fun, she said.

"I had a blast," she said. "I got to be a part of it and teach. I didn't get to watch the interns, because I had a station of my own, but I enjoy watching them grow.

"This was the first lesson of teaching for many of them. They come to me, and they are asked to teach a whole unit. It's very daunting for these folks. I was so proud to see them be successful in the outdoor teaching environment."

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