LONGMONT — Twenty-two students sat at black science lab tables. Some played with objects sitting in a bucket on the table, others drew on paper, and a few zoned out as they swiveled around on their new metal lab stools.
These students are not in high school. In fact, most had never seen a science lab like the one they were in until they showed up for mini-science camp at Flagstaff Academy charter school Friday.
Flagstaff Academy is one of two new charter schools in the St. Vrain Valley School District that are opening this year. It will serve grades K-6 in its first year and will add an additional grade each year for the next two years.
Flagstaff is using a Core Knowledge curriculum that focuses on math and science.
To serve its mission, the school’s organizers hired an Elizabethtown, Pa.-based company called Cognitive Learning Systems to design a science lab, complete with beakers, microscopes, balances and white child-size lab coats, and to provide an age-appropriate curriculum for first- through sixth-graders.
Thomas Frielle, a staff scientist with Cognitive Learning Systems, worked with first- through third-graders and fourth- through sixth-graders at science camps Friday as a way to introduce Flagstaff students to science concepts before school starts and to get them excited about their science classes. The students will take science classes five days a week; two of those days will be spent conducting experiments in the new lab.
The younger students seemed unsure of themselves but dug right into the assignment, which dealt with electricity and materials that conduct electrons. They touched cotton balls, blocks of wood, a squoosh ball shaped like the moon and metal objects to wires attached to a battery-powered light bulb to see which ones would conduct the electric charge. If the light went on, they knew they had hit the jackpot.
Third-grader Aiden McClelland, 8, got the attention of every teacher in the classroom when he answered all of Frielle’s questions correctly.
“My dad’s been teaching me,” Aiden said, as he started testing materials for conductivity before Frielle demonstrated how to do it.
His future science teacher was amazed and was already thinking of ways to keep him challenged and involved in class when school begins Wednesday.
Zach Bloemen, 7, the son of principal Kimberly Bloemen, sat at a table of Flagstaff organizers’ children.
“I love it,” the second-grader said about science. “I have a book about space and a lot of science books.”
The first thing he noticed about the new science lab is that there were “a lot of things I could do science with.”
Alexa Ginn, 6, commented on the hanging skeleton at the front of the classroom, grinning at the kids with a blue bicycle helmet on its head.
Flagstaff will open with 234 students this school year and has a long waiting list, Bloemen said.
The beauty of the LabLearner program is that it gives students exposure to things they have never seen before, she said.
Many schools say they are science-based, but they offer only one science class a week or have one corner of their classroom dedicated to a scientific topic, such as mammals, Bloemen said. What makes the Flagstaff program different is that students will be using the same equipment that professional scientists use.
“There has been a lot of interest from parents in the lab,” Bloemen said. And kids love to “touch and experience it.”
LabLearner was developed at Pennsylvania State University about 12 years ago. Initially, the plan was to use grant money to put real science labs in schools.
Once the group began installing labs, it realized that teachers needed help devising a curriculum to go along with the equipment. Now the program offers curricula for preschoolers, elementary school and middle school students, Frielle said.
The program’s developers turned it into a business last year, he said.
Flagstaff paid $35,000 for the science lab and curriculum and to have Frielle and other staff members come out to teach students and teachers how to use the equipment.
Karen Fidelak, president of Flagstaff’s board of directors, said she found the program on the Internet and talked to schools that were using it before Flagstaff purchased the program.
“They were very positive about the program, the solidness and the tightness of it,” she said. “It was good to hear.”
Paula Aven Gladych can be reached at 303-684-5211 or pavengladych@ times-call.com.