Students at Dupo elementary school are mad about science

News-DemocratDecember 15, 2013 

Students Hailey Proffitt, Hannah Holland and Kabrina Houston took turns pretending to be different ocean animals trying to consume food during an after-school program at Bluffview Elementary School in Dupo.

Using a small mesh strainer, the girls pretended to be a blue whale eating plankton, which was black pepper floating in a container of water. Tweezers represented a shark trying to grab fish, which were pieces of confetti in the water, and a pipette was a squid sucking up food.

For an hour after school every Thursday, 18 students in third- through sixth-grade gather in the science lab at Bluffview for the Mad Science program.

During the "Life In the Sea" course, Mad Science instructor Caroline Steinhauser, known as Dr. Goo, gave each group a bag of plastic ocean animals, and the students had to make two piles: one of fish and one of non-fish.

"It's time to use your science brain and think through it," she told the students.

One student asked about an octopus. "It's not a fish," Steinhauser said. "It's actually a mollusk."

The students were also surprised to learn a starfish isn't a fish either. Steinhauser said scientists have officially changed the starfish's name to sea star.

When Steinhauser talked about how a swim bladder works in a fish, fourth-grader Preston Crain, 11, was not amused.

"It makes me want to barf," he said as Steinhauser passed around a diagram that shows where the swim bladder is located inside a fish.

As the fish swallows air, she said it goes into his body and makes him float. When the swim bladder pushes out the air, the fish sinks.

The students also had the opportunity to look at ocean animal specimens preserved in jars including a sand dollar, sea cucumber, jellyfish, shrimp and a sea star.

Preston said he likes learning about animals. "I've never seen things that are at the bottom of the ocean," he said. "I've never been to the ocean."

At the end of the hour-long program, Steinhauser handed out take home activities for the students that included three-dimensional glasses to use with 3D cards of animals.

Third-grader Connor Smitt, 9, said he enjoys the take home activities and doing experiments at home.

Many of the students like learning new things while hanging out with friends.

"We get to make new things and spend time with new friends," said fourth-grader Kabrina, 9.

"I like we sort of get to hang out with our friends and do a lot of fun activities," fourth-grader Bryce Koonce, 9, said.

The students at Bluffview Elementary only have two more sessions of the six-week Mad Science program left. Program coordinator Debbie Row, a fourth-grade science and social studies teacher, said she hopes to offer the program again in the spring. The $75 cost of the program is covered by parents.

Row said she is thankful to have Mad Science at Bluffview. "We need to get kids interested in science more and more," she said.

Mad Science is a worldwide science enrichment provider. Mad Science of St. Louis works with more than 100 schools in Illinois and Missouri and also does workshops, birthday parties, camps and special events. For more information about the program, visit www.stlouis.madscience.org.

"The goal is to make science learning fun in a hands-on way," Steinhauser said.

Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or jforsythe1@bnd.com.

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