Lake Norman & Mooresville

No science textbook means more projects, fun

You get a piece of foam-pipe insulation, a plastic cup and all the tape you need. Now build a roller-coaster for a marble that follows the physics of force of motion.

Could you do it?

How about taking a battery, a wire and a light bulb to create electricity?

These are just a few of the hands-on projects constructed every week in Laura Smith's fourth- and fifth-grade science classes at the American Renaissance School in Statesville.

Her hard work, creativity and determination have landed Smith, who lives in the Tall Oaks community in Mooresville, a spot at this year's Mickelson ExxonMobil Teacher's Academy. The five-day training program is designed to provide third- through fifth-grade teachers the knowledge and skills to motivate students to pursue careers in science and math, according to the Academy's website, sendmyteacher.com.

Smith is one of 200 math and science teachers from the country who were selected from more than 1,500 candidates for the academy.

"I've heard a lot about the academy, and I really love the opportunity to attend and share with other teachers," said Smith, 53.

Smith has been a teacher for 20 years, teaching first grade, then computer lab for 15 years in South Carolina before moving to Iredell County four years ago. She's taught at American Renaissance School for three years.

Switching to science wasn't hard for Smith. She is a proponent of hands-on learning and encourages problem solving before directly feeding her students the answer.

"I really love seeing them so excited to learn," said Smith. "Science is so easy to do that. Just watching them get so excited - and get it and understand it."

There are no textbooks at American Renaissance School.

Smith teaches weather lessons by walking outside to look at clouds and talk about humidity. For a mapping lesson, she uses the former Ford dealership building in downtown Statesville that now houses the school.

Smith uses the enclosed slide from the first floor to the basement classrooms as a lesson on static electricity. She loves "field trips" that are right outside her door, she said.

"This is definitely the best science class I've ever been in," said fifth-grader Phebe Pickard, 11. "Mrs. Smith has done a lot of good teaching this year."

One of Phebe's favorite lessons was land forms, where the students made volcanoes to learn how they erupt. She said she also enjoyed learning about weather.

"This has definitely been a fun year," said Phebe, who is in her first year at the school. "Science is one of my favorite subjects, and she makes it fun."

One of the things Smith looks forward to about the Mickelson ExxonMobil Teacher's Academy is the lessons on science subjects like forces of motion.

The Academy was started by professional golfer Phil Mickelson and his wife, Amy, in partnership with ExxonMobil and the National Science Teachers Association and Math Solutions. Experts from those associations teach at the academy, which starts July 17 at the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, N.J.

"I really look forward to the opportunity to come back and share my experience with other teachers," Smith said.

Smith also said the experience will help her as she is working on her National Teaching Board certification.

When Smith isn't in the classroom - or spending hours at home researching topics and projects - she enjoys spending time with her husband, Dennis, listening to music or playing golf, and she also enjoys quiet time to read. Smith has two grown children.

Dennis Smith says he's not only her "public relations" specialist, he's also her biggest fan.

"She is as dedicated a teacher as I have ever known," he said via email. "I wish the nuns had taught me science the way Laura teaches it."

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