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Chemistry Class Excites Sixth Graders

For about 20 years, students from Ashland elementary schools have been coming to a Hands-on-Chemistry class at Ashland Community and Technical College. The students in the Ashland Public Schools Elementary Gifted Pullout Program are selected from each elementary school for their exceptional learning abilities, and one day a week they meet for enrichment classes. 

Their Hands-on-Chemistry class at ACTC provides laboratory science exposure. “The purpose is to safely introduce grade school students to a hands-on lab experience in a college setting,” said Dr. James Schmidt, ACTC Chemistry Professor and Hands-on-Chemistry instructor.

The two and one half hour class meets one day a week for eight weeks in the chemistry lab at the College Drive Campus.  The class explores physical sciences include chemistry, geology, astronomy and physics.  The emphasis is on chemistry but some biology is added when microscopes are used.  Since math is the language of science, math is emphasized in the experiments. 

And what do the students get from the class?

They learn about the periodic table of elements by finding the elements contained in a box of cereal. They learn about metric measurements of mass, length and volume by comparing burgers from McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s.

They explore the light spectrum by using a spectroscope to determine the presence of mercury vapor in fluorescent lights. They get an understanding of acids and bases by comparing different brands of over the counter antacid tablets and by finding the pH of red cabbage juice.

“I really like this class because I really like doing experiments and seeing what happens,” said Will Spade, another Hager Elementary student.  “The experiment to see which antacid was the strongest was neat.”  He would like to become a chemist or astronaut.  

“I like that we do two or three experiments every day,” said Langley Sebastian, a Hager Elementary student. “We made gluep a week ago, and that was fun.”  “Gluep,” a mixture of diluted boric acid and Elmer’s glue that resembles silly putty, illustrated the concept of polymerization.  “I like science, and I like coming to the college,” said Langley.  She wants to be a doctor when she grows up.

 “We’re very appreciative of this opportunity at the college,” said Teresa Montague, the Ashland School elementary gifted teacher.  “To have this amount of time in a college lab is pretty amazing.” 

“Hand-on-Chemistry builds science vocabulary and awareness of the different branches of science,” Montague said.  “Students learn something about the scientific method and the importance of paying attention to detail.  

“Another benefit is that students get some idea of what college is like,” Montague said.  “My goal is that all of my students go onto college or pursue some form of education after high school. Even though math and science fields have attracted more men than women in the past, the girls get just as excited as the boys about their experiments.  I like that we are sparking a math/science connection for them.”

“It’s thrilling to work with sixth graders,” said Schmidt.  “They are very curious, and they are open with showing their excitement when an experiment works.”  Dr. Schmidt started teaching the class 15 years ago when he took over the class from now retired Professor Charlie Howes.

“I think this is a valuable service to the community as well as the students,” Schmidt said.  “It is an opportunity for both science enrichment and exposure to college.”

“This class goes beyond day to day classroom activities,” Montague said. “The students get to interact with students from other schools and share new ideas. And some of the excitement of learning stays with them as they go on to middle and high school.  A number of the Paul Blazer students now attending early college classes at ACTC were in Dr. Schmidt’s Hands-on-Science class several years ago.”

“At the end of the year, when asked about their experience, the sixth graders always say that they wish they could keep going to Hands-On-Science,” Montague added.  “Students wanting to learn more is every teacher’s dream.”