February 14, 2011

The Front Porch: Why Celery Stalks Make for Cool Science

By Mark Gesner

Do you know what happens when you put a celery stalk in water that has blue food coloring?  How about if you put a celery stalk in a glass of Mountain Dew?  Do you think the celery stalk will continue to grow strong and green?

The students in Mrs. Laurie Nikolic’s third grade class at Gifford Elementary School in Racine can tell you about the growth of celery stalks and about how to understand complicated concepts like density.  That’s because the kids in Mrs. Nikolic’s class are learning a lot about science in some pretty nifty ways. According to third grader Luke Behrendt, “the coolest things are the experiments.  We learn while we’re having fun.   Mrs. Nikolic lets us do things like look at the inside of bulbs.  I like it.”  

It’s the experiments that have also captured the attention of Luke’s classmate, Paige Allen.  Paige explained that “not all the stuff you read in books is always true, but with experiments, you can really see what happens.”  Seeing is believing for Paige, and it is also exciting.  Her advice to other third graders is “to not think of science as being boring, it can be fun if you learn by doing experiments.”

Explore the topic of teaching science with Mrs. Nikolic a bit further and it quickly becomes clear that there is a method to her experimental madness.  She’s glad to hear that her students are having fun, because when they’re having fun making it through the science curriculum, she’s pretty sure that they’re also engaged and learning memorable concepts.  “We have built our curriculum on the principle of student inquiry,” explained Mrs. Nikolic.  “We now understand a lot more about how to help kids gain a love for science.”

The third grade teacher attributes much of her new understanding about science to lessons learned at the professional development training she received through her work with a Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction funded project called Preparing Outstanding Science Educators (POSE).  It was in this forum provided through a University of Wisconsin-Parkside partnership with the Racine Unified School District (RUSD), that Mrs. Nikolic gained a whole new perspective on science.  “The curriculum we learned about and now teach is all about instilling wonder.   I am able to adapt the curriculum and go with where the students have interest,” she said.  “If they want to know more about why a cheetah has spots, then we’ll explore that topic.  The learning is much more meaningful when the kids have input on what we explore.”

According to Mrs. Nikolic, experiencing the POSE training was an “awesome and invaluable experience that lit a fire under a lot of teachers in Racine.”   Her comments are music to the ears of people like  John Surendonk, RUSD Elementary School Science Coordinator, and Shannon McGuire, Education Outreach Director at UW-Parkside.  When an educator understands how to be comfortable shifting from teacher-led work to building off the wonder of student inquiry, it’s an amazing transformation, according to Mr. Surendonk.  Ms. McGuire agreed, and explained “seeing teachers be rejuvenated and prepared to help students learn in exciting new ways is an awesome thing to witness.”

Mr. Surendonk and Ms. McGuire have had the opportunity, thanks to a cadre of seasoned educators from the university and elsewhere, to provide continuing education to thousands of teachers through programs like POSE and The Chiwaukee  Academy.  The Chiwaukee Academy is a partnership effort between UW-Parkside, RUSD, the Kenosha Unified School District and Carthage College that provides professional development to about 200 teachers each summer on the UW-Parkside campus on topics ranging from Apple’s iLife Integration to Effective Middle School Science Teaching. 

“So many times partnerships end after a grant is over.  We have an example of a partnership that has been sustained and has grown,” said Mr. Surendonk.  In addition to the ongoing Chiwaukee partnership, he also pointed to a current collaboration supported by a National Science Foundation grant called Preparing Urban Lakeshore Science Educators (PULSE).  PULSE is a planning effort to help experienced teachers like Mrs. Nicolic, as well as new teacher education students, to more effectively teach science in urban settings in grades 3 – 8.

Of course, Luke and Paige may not care much about things like POSE, Chilwaukee and PULSE, but they do care a whole lot about how a celery stalk grows.  And while they’ll be glad to tell you that Mrs. Nikolic is a cool teacher who knows how to have fun, they may not tell you exactly what happens to that celery stalk that sat in Mountain Dew.  Hey, if you want to remember lessons about science, Luke and Paige recommend that you do the experiment yourself!

Front Porch Rockers

Good Company: Join the award-winning University of Wisconsin-Parkside Theatre Arts department for Stephen Sondheim’s Company (The Musical). Directed by Jamie Cheatham, Artistic Director and Head of the Acting Program at UW-Parkside, Company is the story of Bobby's 35th birthday and the five married couples, who are his best friends, and his three girlfriends, who are waiting to see if he's ready to take the plunge.  Performances will be in the Communication Arts Theatre on February 18, 19, 24, 25 & 26 at 7:30 p.m.; February 20 at 2:00 p.m.; and February 25 at 10:00 a.m. For ticket information, please visit the UW-Parkside Theatre Arts Box Office website.

A Teach-In about Homophobia and Bullying will take place on Thursday, February 24, 2011 from 4:30 PM to 8:00 PM at Gateway Technical College Racine Campus Conference Center, Michigan Room (101 S. Main St., Racine). Organized by the UW-Parkside Center for Community Partnerships Diversity Programs and UW-Parkside LGBTQ Resource Center, this is an opportunity to help administrators, teachers, and counselors create safer school environments for all students, not just those who are gay and lesbian. For more information or to register, visit the UW-Parkside Continuing Education website, or call Emily Battisti at 262-595-2018.

Saturday Information Sessions and Experience Days: Join UW-Parkside Admissions for upcoming Saturday Information Sessions and Experience Days. Held on February 26, April 2, and May 7 from 9 a.m. - 12 noon in the UW-Parkside Student Center, Saturday Information Sessions are open houses that include a campus tour and an admissions presentation.  Held on March 25th and April 15th Experience Days include a brief admissions overview, Q&A sessions, campus tour and an actual “UW-Parkside experience” provided by faculty.  For more information or to register for either event, please visit the UW-Parkside Admissions website.

 Mark Gesner is the Director of Community Development at the University of Wisconsin – Parkside.   Contact him directly at mark.gesner@uwp.edu.

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1 comment:

  1. Great Stuff! Thanks for sharing the info