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E=MC2 equals learning. Hands-on program makes science fun for students

published: February 7, 2001
posted to site: 05/18/2001

E=MC2 equals learning

Hands-on program makes science fun for students

by Ana Blanco
Staff Writer
The Home News Tribune Reporter
Wednesday, February 7th, 2001

West Windsor-Plainsboro: Kids at Wicoff Elementary school are having a great time learning science - but not through books.

Through the school's "E=MC2" program, children in kindergarten through sixth grade are using items such as straws, plastic cups and thermometers to learn the principles of science.

"I get to work with molecules. It's a lot of fun," said 7-year-old Jeremy Melendez.

The program is funded through a $1.7 million grant from the National Science Foundation, the school district and various companies including Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Princeton and Rider universities.

The program enables teachers to instruct their colleagues on science-based courses that can be used in their classrooms. The courses are subjects the teachers-turned-students usually don't initially have much information about or require skills or techniques they have not previously used. The courses are taught at a variety of locations, including Princeton and Rider.

The newly-trained teachers then introduce the new information they have learned to their students through instructional "kits" for practical applications.

"The reason the program works so well is that these kids are excited to learn through these materials. They are always eager to try new ways to learn," said Sona Polakoski, the project's coordinator.

"It's also teachers teaching other teachers," she said.

E=MC2 instructor Mary Miller, a first-grade teacher at Wicoff School, said the pupils were receptive to the common materials used for instruction. Miller taught other teachers a course called "Guide on the Side," a communications-based course which suggests teachers increase dialogue with students.

The students "were never uncomfortable or shy with the materials used. It's things they are used to seeing. They aren't shy about asking questions," Miller said. Irina Matos agreed.

"I get to watch the temperature go up and down and we get to go outside sometimes," said the 6-year-old.

Miller also said the teachers had no preconceived notions about receiving instruction from their peers.

"When they are your peers teaching you, it's a little different. But it's exciting to see them become enthusiastic about learning," she said.

Last week, U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, D-12th Dist., gave the district $510,000 in federal funds to expand the program to the district's middle schools.

"There are studies that say that the children going into high school aren't choosing science as a major or interest. I was not allowed to take science or physics in high school," Polakowski said. "This project helps them because they are learning through other modalities. These are skills they'll be using for life."

If Cecile Haynes is any indication, the project is a success.

"I look forward to coming to school now and I like science better now," the 7-year-old said.