Middle School Students Apply Textbook Knowledge to Hands-On Learning During Recent University Visit

Middle School Students Apply Textbook Knowledge to Hands-On Learning During Recent University Visit
Eighth-grader Michelle Wang tries to lift a meteorite at the Wonders of Geology session during a recent field trip to Cal Poly Pomona.
Dan Krawitz shines an ultraviolet light on a piece of scheelite to demonstrate to the First Avenue Middle School eighth-graders its flourescent qualities during his Wonders of Geology lesson.

Eighth-graders from First Avenue Middle School in Arcadia left their textbooks behind on Jan. 23 to experience science lessons firsthand through Cal Poly Pomona?s Science IMPACT (Institute for Modern Pedagogy and Creative Teaching) program.

Nearly 250 students, accompanied by teachers and parent volunteers, toured the campus, focusing on AGRIscapes and BioTrek, which includes a rainforest, and ethnobotany and aquatic learning centers.

?Science IMPACT was contacted by First Avenue Middle School to provide a science-oriented field trip experience,? said Stefanie Saccoman, Science IMPACT project director. ?AGRIscapes and BioTrek were the perfect venues. Both are beautiful to see, however, beyond that, both have important messages to send about our environment and the critical balance between the natural world and the needs of humankind.?

A group of wide-eyed students walked through a mist-induced rainforest, crowding around a spectacled caiman and standing on tiptoes to catch a glimpse of the matamata turtle swimming around a pond.

?It?s ugly. Does it eat fish?? one boy asked, referring to the turtle.

?Oh, an alligator. Oh my god, it?s gonna eat me,? a girl giggled to her classmate while passing the caiman.

Mike Brown, BioTrek curator, broke off allspice, bay rum and piper sanctum leaves for students to sniff.

?It smells like guava. It?s weird,? exclaimed one student.

Across campus at AGRIscapes, another group of eighth-graders crawled through a tunnel and into a traveling planetarium. It was dark inside, as Terri Malyszek, an instructor at Ontario NASA Science & Technology Learning Center, pointed out a ?sky? full of stars, galaxies and planets.

Next, the group headed to the Wonders of Geology Show. There, Dan Krawitz, curator of the Science Education Center in Orange who is also working toward a teaching credential at Cal Poly Pomona, showed the boys and girls petrified whalebone and fluorescent minerals glowing under black lights. Students attempted to lift an 85-pound meteorite and watched a solid turn into gas during an experiment that included dropping dry ice into a water bottle with a balloon attached to the end.

?This works so much better than your Alka-Seltzer experiment,? one boy exclaimed to his teacher, as the balloon at the end of his water bottle began to expand.

Science IMPACT is a chartered institute in the College of Science. It evolved from two National Science Foundation funded projects and, thanks to grants and private gifts over the past five years, has remained a self-sustaining institute.

This field trip is just one of many ways Science IMPACT supports the university?s mission of outreach to the greater community. Last year, a four-year grant from City of Industry enabled the project to publish science instructional manuals intended to help K-12 teachers expand their curriculum while also seeking to make science instruction more interesting for students.

?Giving young people access to the resources of Cal Poly Pomona enriches both them and our campus community,? Saccoman said. ?The visiting students discover that Cal Poly Pomona is a multifaceted environment with much to offer. As a polytechnic university, having young people here allows us to test what we have to offer for its validity.?

Melody Yang, a science teacher at First Avenue Middle School and a Cal Poly Pomona alumna (?99, bachelor?s degree in biology), coordinated the field trip with Saccoman.

?With science, students feel like they only study in the classroom,? she said. ?I wanted them to see people interested in science as a profession, and to realize that studying is a life-long process that does not just stop in the classroom.?

The field trip was a great experience for her students, said Yang.

?I think they have a good impression of a rain forest,? she said. ?It?s good for them to actually be able to touch and smell the leaves. It?s incredible, and it?s not an opportunity they would haveby reading books with pictures.?

Students get a view of the matamata turtle in the BioTrek Rainforest.