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Science to the rescue

Dec 08, 2016 02:43PM ● Published by Jet Burnham

Caroline Hagman has the students learn by observing each team’s results. (Jet Burnham/City Journals)

Gallery: Science to the rescue [5 Images] Click any image to expand.

By Jet Burnham | j.burnham@mycityjournals.com


Science Day at Columbia Elementary is a day for teamwork, creativity, problem-solving and sometimes getting wet. Science specialist Caroline Hagman enjoys creating challenges that allow students to experiment with science concepts.

“I get to do hands-on activities that supplement what they are learning in class, so I get to play and explore all day,” said Hagman.

Each Science Day is dedicated to one grade. Each class has a time slot to build their solution to a problem. Challenges have included Physics of the Caribbean, Stuck in the Rain and Lego Hotel. 

“The kids love learning about the world around them.,” said Hagman. “They also really enjoy anything that allows them to talk and make something.” 

 In Physics of the Caribbean, fourth-graders were challenged to build a raft to rescue their crew stuck on an island. The materials they had to work with were: aluminum foil, paper clips, index cards and masking tape. They were given 20 minutes to discuss, sketch and build their rafts. Students then gathered around a plastic swimming pool to test how many golf balls (representing the crew) could be placed in their floating raft before it began to fill with water. 

“We thought a bowl holds more,” said Valeria Orozco as her team explained their raft design. They molded their aluminum foil sides deeper than those of the other teams. 

Some rafts only held a few balls, while the raft that Valeria and her team designed held 36.

“When we put the boat in and it held 29 (balls), I was proud,” said Tyler Miller, another student who participated in the challenge. 

Tyler enjoys science more because of the games and activities they do with Hagman, he said. 

 “I believe that continued participation in these activities will give our students skills they need to succeed in the workplace: communication, perseverance and teamwork,” Hagman said. 

Students follow the engineering process of ask, imagine, plan, create and improve. 

“How can you improve your design? What would you do differently next time?” Hagman asks when all designs have been tested. Students consider what factors made some rafts more successful and why. 

Melinda Flint, a fourth-grade teacher, knows Columbia is lucky to have a full-time science specialist and is excited to see how it will affect her students’ scores on SAGE testing this year.

 “We talk to her often about what we’re doing, so she extends it or refines it,” said Flint.

When the third grade came to Hagman’s room on their Science Day, they found streamers hanging from paper rain clouds. Their Stuck in the Rain challenge was to build a shelter to protect themselves and electrical equipment from a rainstorm heading their way. Teams were provided a backpack with materials representing what they might have to work with in a real-life scenario: paper cups, tape, pipe cleaners, playing cards, cotton balls and paper.

The teams of third-graders built a shelter and tested its ability to keep a square of tissue dry while water was poured through a colander over the top, simulating a rainstorm. 

Some groups started building before drawing a sketch. Others spent most of their allotted 15 minutes planning. Paige Jarrett’s group struggled with the time limit.

 “We had an idea ,but it kept falling, and it was down to five minutes left,” she said. Despite the last-minute rush, her team’s structure was a success.

Kaily Aniya was very stressed about her project. Her team used up half their time just discussing ideas. Their final creation wasn’t able to keep the water out. Kaily had had some concerns because they rushed to complete their build.

 “I knew it was going to fall,” she said.

Science is a very important part of the curriculum at Columbia. In addition to using the science specialist this year, teachers focus on science often. Ashley Ball, who teaches third grade, incorporates the science curriculum into other subjects. 

“We teach the science and they write about it and read stories about it,” Ball said. She believes Hagman’s practical activities help the kids build a good background. They can write with more confidence about subjects they’ve experienced for themselves.

There have been four dedicated Science Days so far this year. The remaining grades are looking forward to seeing what challenge Hagman will give them.

“I have noticed an added excitement about learning,” Hagman said. “I hope that implementing these days into our school will foster a love of learning and science.”  

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