On certain weekday afternoons, chaos reigns in Allen Goldsmith's classroom at Calle Mayor Middle School in Carson. Or at least it seems that way.
Every Thursday and Friday from 2:30 to 4 p.m. the Science Club meets in Goldsmith's cluttered classroom. One reason they're so busy is that they're preparing for a trip to another planet.
In one corner a giggling group trades messages via computer with the Science Club at Madrona Middle School. Outside, a student experiments with acetone and a spectrometer to test for chlorophyll. In another room, three boys tape together plastic tarps to create their own biosphere.
Through these practical, hands-on experiences, Goldsmith says, his students learn how mathematics, science and technology are related--and may even learn to love science.
Goldsmith, a teacher for more than 30 years, frequently changes his curriculum. This year students in his after-school Science Club are working on a project called "A Visit to a New Planet."
The experiments designed by Goldsmith for the trip to the imaginary planet guide the students through chemical, meteorological and biological properties of different materials.
Supplies for the projects are everywhere, mixed in with computers, rocks, beakers and Bunsen burners. To an outsider, the clutter and activity may seem overwhelming, but Goldsmith says the students are in the midst of serious scientific discovery.
"They're learning a lot of very complicated things without even knowing it," Goldsmith said.
The true test of their labors comes in April, when they will camp in the desert for two days and put their knowledge to work--as if they had landed on a new planet.
Working in teams, the teen-agers will use the experiments and equipment they have brought along to explore the terrain near Blythe.
Joshua Mierly, Lindsay McLeary and Adam Moore proudly showed off the sleeping quarters recently that they created out of plastic tarps. Designing the structure forces the youngsters to consider what scientists visiting a new place would face.
Youngsters don't have to be scientific wizards to join the 30 to 35 members of the club. Goldsmith has no academic requirements or registration for participation in the Science Club.
He gleans interesting projects from teaching magazines and books and from other science teachers.
"Basically, the kids get stuck doing what I like to do," Goldsmith said.