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Ewwwww, gross! Fourth-graders at William Wells Brown get down and dirty with science


At William Wells Brown science night, crowds gathered to watch a yeast volcano experiment set up by the Nerd Squad, a nonprofit group that promotes STEM activities. (Photo by Tammy L. Lane)

At William Wells Brown Science Night, crowds gathered to watch a yeast volcano experiment set up by the Nerd Squad, a nonprofit group that promotes STEM activities. (Photo by Tammy L. Lane)


 

By Tammy L. Lane
Special to KyForward
 

As families and friends browsed through the Science Night exhibits, students at William Wells Brown Elementary in Lexington proudly explained what they’ve learned about a key concern of fourth-graders: germs!
 

“A lot of times in science class you hear about equators and earthquakes and volcanoes and things you might not necessarily be able to relate to. But this time, it’s a project that everybody knows and can understand and really get a grasp on,” said Cagney Coomer, a graduate student at the University of Kentucky. “They can articulate this back to you and talk to you and show you that they have a real understanding of what’s going on. That is being able to take pride in your own understanding and your own intelligence, and that’s something everybody needs to have.”
 

“People in the community are out tonight to support their children and celebrate their hard work. Those are the types of things we need at William Wells Brown.” — Teacher Kim Sword

Science Night was the culmination of several weeks of preparation in which Coomer and other college and community volunteers introduced the fourth-graders to the concept of germs, experiments and the scientific method.
 

“When it first started, they were so nervous, but then they realized there was no wrong answer and it was all in their hands,” Coomer recalled.
 

The result was a roomful of confident youngsters chatting up their families and the guest judges about microbes, pathogens and bacteria and about the importance of their research. Ten-year-old Zorian Alcorn, for instance, worked in a small group that compared the effectiveness of Crest and Colgate toothpastes.  
 

“Three people brushed (with each brand), and we swabbed our mouths and put it in a petri dish to let the bacteria grow for three days,” Zorian said. They found that Colgate killed more bacteria, “so now people know what to buy so their teeth will be healthy.”
 

Other groups investigated how safe food really is under the “five-second rule,” tested hand sanitizer vs. bar soap, swabbed fresh produce from the grocery to determine the need for washing food, and compared the bacteria levels of various parts of the school such as door knobs and bookshelves.
 

Ten-year-old Zorian Alcorn worked in a small group that compared effectiveness of different brands of toothpaste. (Photo by Tammy L. Lane)

Ten-year-old Zorian Alcorn worked in a small group that compared effectiveness of different brands of toothpaste. (Photo by Tammy L. Lane)

“What I want them to know is that science is not impossible and everybody can be a scientist. I want them to see how amazing and fun it is, but I want them to also see it relates to real life,” said Coomer, who volunteers with the Nerd Squad, a nonprofit that promotes STEM activities. “They walk around the building and see hand sanitizers and dispensers and they have signs in the restroom that say ‘Wash your hands,’ but do they know why that’s important? We’re having real conversations and real-life learning.”
 

Fourth-grade teacher Kim Sword appreciated the Nerd Squad’s helping with ideas, data and graphs and Bluegrass Community and Technical College’s providing lab supplies and poster materials, calling it a wonderful collaboration. Volunteers also turned out on Science Night to lead activities such as walking on open cartons of eggs and extracting DNA from bananas, and to watch the fourth-graders shine.
 

“It’s a good experience to have to stand up and talk about what they’ve done. It’s just a positive thing for them,” Sword noted.
 

Throughout the process, the youngsters had drawn on several types of skills, such as working in teams and writing conclusions to their experiments.
 

“We taught across the curriculum and integrated math, reading and writing, and it’s been comprehensive,” Sword said.
 

“The kids were excited from start to finish,” she added. “They see that science is not just in the book, that science is not just a subject in school – that it relates to everything they do. Their hypothesis was not always supported, but it’s OK to make mistakes as long they’re working in the scientific method and they’re engaged and inquisitive. There’s nothing wrong with making a mistake or stumbling upon something when you’re investigating. That’s what science is.”
 

Sword was also pleased with the midweek turnout on Science Night. “People in the community are out tonight to support their children and celebrate their hard work,” she said. “Those are the types of things we need at William Wells Brown.”
 

UK grad student Cagney Coomer gave students a quick pep talk before Science Night began. 'What I want them to know is that science is not impossible and everybody can be a scientist,' she said. (Photo by Tammy L. Lane)

UK grad student Cagney Coomer gave students a quick pep talk before Science Night began. ‘What I want them to know is that science is not impossible and everybody can be a scientist,’ she said. (Photo by Tammy L. Lane)


 

Tammy L. Lane is website editor and communications specialist for Fayette County Public Schools.


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