Oak Ridge National Laboratory


News Release

Media Contact: Fred Strohl (strohlhf@ornl.gov)
Communications and External Relations


Study Center provides students variety of hands-on science experiences

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., June 20, 2002 — Hands-on experiences for students in a variety of science disciplines are available through the Ecological and Physical Sciences Study Center coordinated by the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Celebrating its 15th year of operation, the center has worked with more than 130,000 students from kindergarten through 12th grades in one or two-hour sessions that enable them to get a close-up feel for the variety of sciences.

"The basic program is to get kids excited about science," said Kris Light, one of the instructors of the program who has been with it since the first year. "We bring the equipment in and let the students do hands-on science."

Among the topics the instruction staff has for the program are microscopes, machines, space, plants, the environment, robots, chemistry, fossils and astronomy.

Classes can be held at the nearly 200-year-old Freels Bend cabin on DOE's Oak Ridge Reservation or the instructors can take their classes to the students. Public and private school groups, as well as home schoolers, have participated in the program during weekdays and Saturdays.

Between 6,000 and 7,000 students per year are involved with the program, which breaks down to between 250 to 300 per month. While most of the classes have been from Tennessee, classes from other states have also been represented. A class from Puerto Rico recently took a course through the program.

Light, who has a degree in microbiology and works in the science discovery center at Oak Ridge's Willow Brook Elementary School, notes the curriculum has expanded over the years, but the hands-on theme has remained.

"Our first classes 15 years ago were primarily plants and other environmental sciences," Light said. "As we've expanded the program, we've always kept it fun. For instance, when we talk about the behavior of atoms, we use hoola hoops with the kids to show how the atoms react."

"The goal with the school groups is to get the students interested in science," said Amy Birdwell, a member of the study center's staff who operates the Kumon Learning Center in West Knoxville. "The program must be working right because I get a lot of hugs from the kids when the classes are over."

While the program is K-12, most of the students are K-5. Graves said the difference in ages makes a difference the way the classes are taught.

"Obviously you talk about chemistry to fifth graders different from the way you teach it to kindergartners," said Rene Graves, another staff member and a former computer analyst at the Oak Ridge Y-12 Plant. "The goal is still the same - get kids interested in science at a young age."

Paul Lewis, director of teacher resource distribution for NASA's Tennessee Space Grant Consortium and who conducts public astronomy seminars at the University of Tennessee, said the study center brings out the best in students.

"I've been amazed at the number of good questions the students - especially the young ones - ask about science," said Lewis, who conducts classes on spectroscopy and rockets. "Sometimes we don't give students enough credit for what they already know."

In addition to classes for students, the center also hosts classes for teachers.

More information about the program is available by calling Gail Beyersdorf of ORNL's Communications and Community Outreach at 865-574-5921. - .

Gail Beyersdorf Communications and Community Outreach Education Outreach 4500N, MS-6266, Room J245 Phone: (865) 241-9515; Fax: 241-6776 beyersdorfvg@ornl.gov .