Students give younger kids in Richmond a 'splash of science'

RINGWOOD – Seven-year-old Lainie Koscinski did a little dance when she uncovered a white crystal buried in a tub of sand.

The crystal, she and the other first-graders in her group learned, is a metamorphic rock, which means it was created under the surface of the earth through intense heat and pressure.

At other stations around the Ringwood School gym, eighth-grade advance science students, assisted by seventh-graders, walked groups of first-graders through different science lessons.

At one table, boys in yellow plastic construction helmets built structures out of toothpicks and marshmallows and learned about safety codes. Another group wiggled, hopped and swam as the students learned about adaptation, particularly the different ways animals adapted the way they move to their environment.

"It's helping a lot of kids learn about science, and it's putting a little splash of science into their school," said eighth-grader Ryan Harr, 14, who taught kids how to make rockets as an introduction to physics. "This is something they wouldn't do normally. They love it."

The middle-schoolers are learning too, said their teachers, Lenni Johanson and Erica Sarna, a mother-daughter pair who started the program, called Science Splash, at Nippersink Middle School in Richmond in February.

The program helps students learn the skills expected in the next generation of education standards. A final version of the Next Generation Science Standards was recently released.

"What we're seeing from these science standards is more of an emphasis on design, on presentation, on collaboration, thinking like a scientist," Sarna said. "What's the best way of them hitting those but them teaching?"

The students came up with the subjects within each area of science, developed the lessons and came up with projects for the younger students to do. They've learned how to adjust their lessons on the fly, switching things around to deal with time constraints and other unexpected roadblocks.

Coming up with the lessons really helped Liam Schmidt, 13, learn more the subject he's teaching, geology, and how to memorize all the information he presents, he said.

"We've really learned how to act with the kids and keep them under control sometimes and to really get them excited about everything and help them learn," said Autumn Christensen, 13, who said the experience has been worthwhile because she wants to be a pediatric physical therapist when she grows up.

The program has been such a hit that, besides Richmond and Spring Grove elementary schools in their own district, they've been invited to Ringwood School in Johnsburg District 12, Central Denison Elementary of Lake Geneva Schools and Valley View School in McHenry District 15.

They work with kindergartners through second grade with the middle-school students adapting the lesson for the age group.

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