A hands-on lab at Charlotte Christian School has awakened a new love for science in students.There are no textbooks, pop quizzes or lectures; instead, students have engineering kits, iPads and homemade cell membranes.The STEM Lab, coordinated by Dana Brickner, allows students from junior kindergarten through fifth grade to put in practice what they learn in classes covering science, technology, engineering and mathematics.The classroom is outfitted with an interactive whiteboard, a set of iPads for students and a document camera.“I am more of a guide than I am a teacher,” Brickner said. “I don’t tell them what they are going to learn. I give them the materials they need, and they discover on their own – with my assistance, if they need it.”Parents recently were invited to the STEM lab, where their children taught them how to make projects they’d figured out in class.On March 12, fourth-graders and their parents created a working circuit. Cheers broke out when a group successfully connected the circuit, which set off a light and a buzzer.Reid Davis-Ball said her daughter, Elizabeth Davisball, 10, loves the lab.“She has just talked and talked about how she gets to use her own learning and her own mind to do things,” Davis-Ball said. “She loves the technology in here.”Students have made everything from homemade blood to mortar-and-tile walls to learn principles of engineering, science and math. Brickner said the lab also allows students to learn skills for future careers, such as collaborating with others and sharing ideas.“I think this is where we are going as a society,” Brickner said. “You have to be able to work from things other than textbooks. They have to be able to work in groups and talk together and think together.”To that end, Brickner regularly switches children between groups to force them to work with new people.The STEM Lab was met with some hesitation when it opened in fall. Students were worried because they didn’t have a textbook to study from, Brickner said. Instead, they have notebooks where they keep careful records of their projects.Students receive an assessment rather than a grade, which Brickner describes as “not ‘yes and no’ and ‘ABCD.’ It’s more of a chance for them to explain what was happening (in a project).”Brickner said she believes teaching through projects has made science more appealing to many students, including girls and students who learn better through hands-on experiences.In response to one student saying at the beginning of the school year that science was just for boys, Brickner has made a poster of male scientists. She plans to gradually add pictures of female scientists to remind students the field interests men and women.She’s seen an increase in interest from the girls she teaches. A girl-led team recently was one of the first to connect a circuit.“Once the projects were in front of them and they had a chance to build, design, touch and hold things, the girls – I could see their eyes – were very interested,” Brickner said.Tonya Jesso said her son Jack, 10, now brings his love of science home.“He has come home and created circuits out of everything with a battery in our house,” Jesso said.
Friday, Mar. 15, 2013
Charlotte Christian offers hand-on science
Fourth-grade students work with their parents to create electrical circuits in the school's new hands-on science lab. MARTY MINCHIN
Students at Charlotte Christian School are learning about science through hands-on activities. The approach has sparked enthusiasm among students. MARTY MINCHIN
Dana Brickner, the coordinator for Charlotte Chrstian's new STEM lab, talks to parents and students about the day's project.