Teachers reverse roles for science program

Published 11:56 am Friday, August 15, 2008

Summer can mean many things to students: fresh air, freedom, a chance to do whatever they want all day.

But for a number of area teachers, it means back to the classroom. This isn’t an average classroom though. In this class the teachers are the ones doing the learning.

From Aug. 4-7, Arkema Inc. in Blooming Prairie invited area science teachers to their facility, where Arkema scientists provided hands-on instruction using experiment kits to illustrate concepts the teachers could bring to the classroom.

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The experiment kits given to schools through Arkema’s Science Teacher Program meet National Science Education Standards and contain enough hands-on materials for a class of 30 students as well as eight weeks of curriculum. Arkema Inc. donates $500 to participating teachers to replenish kit materials, as well as a $500 donation to each participating school.

“With tighter school budgets, it is important for industry to find ways to offer teachers additional new resources,” said Rodney Earlywine, plant manager of Arkema’s Blooming Prairie Plant. “Arkema’s Science Teacher Program helps fill the gap by providing teachers with hands-on lessons and custom-created science kits that give them tools to make learning fun.”

In attendance were two teachers from Austin Catholic Schools, Hayfield Elementary, St. Mary’s School and Blooming Prairie. Each school was given a different experiment kit to explore. They would then work alongside two Arkema scientists to conduct the experiment and make note of relevant themes to bring to the classroom. After performing the experiment themselves, they presented their kit like they would in their classes.

“I think it’s a great opportunity to learn some new things to bring into the classroom,” said Jeannie Bambrick, a second grade teacher at Austin Catholic Elementary.

The kits cover topics ranging from Newton’s Law of Physics to the workings of the body. Each one is a lesson in itself. More importantly, each one is presented in a way a group of students can understand and enjoy.

“It’s wonderful to have a kit with experiments ready to go,” said Brandi Veiths of St. Mary’s School.

One group was given an ice cube, beakers, a thermometer and cotton balls and charged with a test of how insulation worked. After an hour, some observations and what was described by one of the teachers present as a “professional” insulation job, the group felt confident in their results after comparing their ice cub to the experimental control puddle, which used to be an identical cube.

Another group was observing how nutrients and minerals are transported through the body. They would take water- and food-coloring-filled, sealed, plastic tube segments to represent the intestines and immerse them in beakers of clear water and watch as the coloration would make its way into the whole container.

The classroom was not all business though. Along with the scientific discussion was a number of stories and teaching anecdotes keeping the atmosphere light. Everyone had something to learn.

“I enjoy meeting the people,” said Eric Isenor of Arkema, Inc. “I love the science kits. I enjoy them as much as any of the kids.”

Since its inception in 1996, more than 700 teachers have participated in Arkema’s Science Teacher Program and have gone on to share their newfound knowledge with more than 50,000 students nationwide. The Science Teacher Program is run in 13 communities where Arkema has either manufacturing or research facilities.