hands-on science lesson

Middle school students Mathew Pachorek, Jairo Dominguez and DaShawn Sanchez are seen taking part in a hands-on science lesson at Primero.

Primero students, from preschool through high school, are engaging in hands-on scientific discovery through a variety of labs and instructional experiences that are sparking curiosity and developing critical thinking skills.

The movement to increase student engagement in these hands-on activities has been largely spearheaded by secondary science teacher Josette Andrews. “Hands-on instruction/lab gives our students a chance to learn by observing, rather than just reading and answering questions. We have many students who flourish in this setting,” Andrews said.

“Students start asking questions that connect what we are doing to real-world, everyday problems. They see that science is in a lot of what we do in our daily lives. Making the connection to real life, for them to start asking questions, makes them feel like they are a part of something bigger, and they might just make a difference down the line.”

Andrews is incorporating hands-on labs across the curriculum. “My Course 2 (seventh grade) class has completed labs having to do with photosynthesis, cellular respiration, cells and tissues,  and which body systems work together to perform a task. My Course 3 (eighth grade) class has completed labs dealing with the properties of acids and bases using cabbage juice as an indicator; they also just completed a lab on Energy Salts: How can a chemical reaction help identify which substances will raise or lower the temperature of a solution in cold or hot packs?  They have also completed a lab on the changes in a burning candle.”

“The biology class is also studying chemical reactions, but they are focusing on how these pertain to the human body. We just completed a lab on temperature and enzymes. The biology class will also be a big part in getting back on track with the RiverWatch Project,” said Andrews.

Emphasizing labs as part of regular instruction has sparked in students a true interest in science and the scientific method. “The students love the hands-on aspect of science,” said Andrews. “They get excited when they hear we are going to do labs when students are in-person during this time of hybrid instruction. It has been important to me to bring this hands-on aspect to our students when they are in the building as opposed to just doing book work.”  

“When we are virtual, we will do foundation work from the book as well as virtual interactivities,” Andrews said. “We leave the in-person days to demonstrate what we have taught during the virtual days. The students have responded very well to this approach, and look forward to their in-person days in the lab,” Andrews said.

The effort to bring hands-on science instruction to all students at Primero also involves the efforts of fellow teachers Alicia Pratt, who is working with students in grades Pre-K through first grade; Risa Byall, who is working with second through fifth grade students; secondary teacher Alicia Pratt; and Blake Byall, who teaches high school chemistry.  

“The PK-5 classes are experiencing science like they have never had,” said Primero Principal Blake Byall. “Risa, Josette, and Alicia are doing a wonderful job bringing the science experience to the kids — at their level, and in engaging ways that will pay off in a long-term interest and love for learning.”

“This endeavour has been really fun - the students seem to really love science,” said Risa Byall. “Our second graders have been learning about how matter can change shapes through hands-on lessons involving soap bubbles. The third grade has conducted experiments using static electricity, and the fourth grade has been experimenting with circuits and energy. The fifth grade made their own goop, illustrating the different forms of matter, such as liquids and solids.”

“Chemistry at Primero this year is undergoing a facelift,” says Blake Byall. “With the advent of a block schedule and Target Time Period allocation, the class of eight juniors is benefiting from over two hours of lab time per week. Not coincidentally, the science lab has undergone a massive transformation in conjunction with the completion of the building renovation project. We have managed to update facilities, purchase badly needed equipment, and stock up on supplies that enable hands-on learning to take place like it could not previously.”

“Every science class, from the students in PK to the current seniors, is focussed on active learning and less textbook dependency. Students are still required to listen to lectures, take the occasional notes, read their books and study for tests, but the real value in learning about scientific concepts is by engaging in real science.”

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