Students get in the lab


In a classroom at Myra Terwilliger Elementary, a trio of fifth-graders stand around a table.

One child holds a paper helicopter with a paper clip attached to the wing.

One student has a yardstick and one holds a stopwatch.

Their assignment is to determine how a variable changes the outcome of an experiment.

In this case, how much faster will the helicopter fall with the added weight of the paper clip?

The period before, a class of second-graders were in the room working with soil samples.

The next period will bring fourth-graders, who are learning how to work with microscopes.

All these activities take place in the school’s science lab, which Terwilliger brought back this year after a few years’ hiatus.

Williams Elementary and Metcalfe Elementary also have opened science labs this school year – part of an initiative to increase elementary school students’ science scores.

“That’s become a new trend we’ve seen in our schools if the resources and the space is available,” said Jen Homard, the School District’s elementary math and science specialist. “It gives every child hands-on experience.”

The hope is that the hands-on experience will give the students a better understanding of what they study in their textbooks and, therefore, improve student performance in the subject.

In Alachua County and statewide, student performance on the science part of the FCAT lags behind that for math, reading and writing scores. Fifth-graders are the only elementary school students who take the science FCAT.

In Alachua County, 48 percent of them scored at grade level or above last school year. That was slightly above the 46 percent statewide average.

At Terwilliger, science teacher Jennifer Mesa said every student goes to the lab at least one day a week.

Along the walls of the room, there are wood models of simple machines such as the pendulum and a pulley, and a model of the solar system. On the wall, the scientific method is written out on a colorful poster made of construction paper.

“It’s very cool and it has a lot of things that help you learn,” said Kiaris Felix, 10, a Terwilliger fifth-grader. “It helps you figure out the things you read in the textbook.”

The $9,000 price of the new Metcalfe lab was funded by Gainesville Regional Utilities, Gainesville Health & Fitness Center and the United Way of North Central Florida.

Kylene Davis, the science lab teacher at Metcalfe, said the lab puts what’s learned in class to the test.

“It’s from theory to practice,” she said. “Concept first, and then we conduct the experiment.”

She said her class has made Silly Putty with liquid starch, food coloring and glue and dropped Mentos mints into a bottle of Diet Coke to observe the ensuing eruption of fizz that a chemical reaction causes.

“They get very excited,” Davis said. “This is brand new to them and it’s a fun way to learn.”

By Christopher Curry
The Gainesville Sun