Shaking things up with science

COSTA MESA — Taio Cruz' radio hit "Dynamite" set the rhythm to shake it.

A small group of soon-to-be first-graders shook their stuff and a small plastic bottle filled with toilet paper and water as they made paper pulp.

The shaking was just the first step to making paper — a process that includes using small screens to drain it and press it, and sponges to absorb any extra water. The science experiment was one of a series on paper and wood the kindergarten class had completed.

"We're kind of fitting in one last experiment before camp is over," said kindergarten teacher Stacy Cislaw.

The kindergarten class was one of 10 classrooms buzzing Thursday with scientific discovery as students finished up their science fair projects that were be presented to their parents Friday.

The nearly three-week, half-day Newport-Mesa Summer Science Institute gave about 320 K-6 students from across the district hands-on math and science summer enrichment.

The camp is popular, with nearly twice the number of applications as there were spots, and students were chosen based on a lottery, said institute Principal Guy Erskine.

The students aren't the only ones learning. The institute also served as a professional development opportunity for 20 teachers who wanted to work on hands-on math and science lessons, Erskine said.

Cislaw, who has taught in the district for 15 years, said she liked how the institute allowed her to focus on science and math instruction and collaborate with new teachers.

She said she has learned some new classroom management ideas for her fellow kindergarten teacher and will take the science experiments back with her to Newport Elementary School. Cislaw said she wants to use the experiments to increase science time from one to three times a week.

"It's made all the difference in the world in teaching science," she said, adding, "I'm going to start off the first month doing these exact [experiments]."

The institute started about 20 years ago and recently added a science fair to give students more experience with the scientific process and working collaboratively.

The kindergarten, first- and second-grade students worked on class projects, while the older students worked in teams of four on a project of their choice, Erskine said.

"It's really great for the kids to have an opportunity to say 'this is what interests us,'" Erskine said.

Students measured evaporation, charting the process of water, salt water, Gatorade and orange soda; devised packages to keep an egg safe after dropping it; and measured the reaction of putting baking soda, yeast and Mentos in a liter of Diet Coke, using balloons, among other projects.

Each team made a hypothesis and charted the process with pictures, drawings, charts and writings.

Soon-to-be fourth-grade student Genesis Avila found her hypothesis to be partially right.

Genesis, 9, and her team decided to try to make fossils using plaster, sand and glue, and mud and glue. They hypothesized that all three would produce an imprint of the shells they were using.

On Thursday, though, the team had shells covered with thick mud, clumpy sand — but the plaster made detailed fossils.

For Genesis, the experiment was really exciting and the institute, which she originally didn't want to attend, is changing her feelings about science.

"I didn't like science — it was too hard—and now that I'm here," she said, "I'm getting used it."

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