FOCUS brings 'fun' science to elementary school

By for CAES News

By Cat Holmes
University of Georgia

Say "science" to fourth-graders at Barnett Shoals Elementary School in Athens, Ga., and you might get excited accounts of making "ocean" waves or using Hula Hoops to section off schoolyard areas to count living bugs and plants. Science is hands-on and fun.

Last semester, these students and their teachers worked on different science projects with Eva Daneke, a University of Georgia student from Duluth, Ga., majoring in environmental health sciences.

Through Project FOCUS (Fostering Our Community's Understanding of Science), Daneke and 11 other UGA students were teamed up with Barnett Shoals teachers to bring hands-on science to kindergarten through fifth-grader students.

Project FOCUS is a new program of the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES). It serves two purposes, said David Knauft, CAES associate dean of academic affairs.

Making science fun

"It allows us to do some community service," Knauft said. "And it also exposes kids to science that's fun and meaningful. Our students provide the teachers with a second pair of hands and a depth of science background that many elementary school teachers do not have."

Since much of the science in the CAES is applied science, he said, it's easier to simplify for young students.

"The kids liked all of the projects," said Daneke, who worked with two fourth-grade classes.

"Their favorite was probably making craters," she said. "We dropped marbles, golf balls and tennis balls from different heights into pans of flour to demonstrate the conditions in space that create craters. It made a big mess, and they loved it."

Concept originated in Atlanta

The idea to pair college science students with elementary school teachers was based on Elementary Science Education Partners, a joint project of Atlanta public schools and seven Atlanta-area colleges and universities, said FOCUS coordinator Jim Spellman.

"FOCUS has been a really good experience for the students," Spellman said.

"Many UGA students come from metro Atlanta, from affluent, mostly white schools," he said. "Barnett Shoals Elementary is really diverse. It gave them a much better understanding of the problems in education and the challenges facing teachers. It also allowed students to see how much work is involved in preparation to teach a class."

On Saturday, Jan. 11, a new crop of UGA students will spend the day at Barnett Shoals in a Project FOCUS orientation session. They'll learn some basics about elementary education, lesson planning and the classrooms where they will work.

The program requires that the CAES students agree to spend at least three hours per week in the classroom, teaching science.

Cat Holmes was a science writer with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.