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Juniata Expands Science Outreach Program to Area Middle Schools

(Posted September 13, 2004)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Science in Motion, the Juniata College outreach program celebrated for more than 15 years as a superb complement to high school science education, has received a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Education to bring a new brand of high-tech science instruction and equipment into middle schools in 11 local school districts.

"Educational research has shown that middle school is the age where students begin to lose interest in science," says Lorraine Mulfinger, associate professor of chemistry and director of Science in Motion. "Just as important, smaller rural school districts have difficulty in supporting science programs because of the cost of equipment and technology. Science in Motion addresses both those needs."

Juniata received a one-year grant for more than $415,000 from the state Department of Education's Department of Assessment and Evaluation to create a pilot program for middle school science instruction. The pilot program will be used as a model for the state to apply for a National Science Foundation grant to fund the program next year.

The college will send programs out to 11 school districts: Everett School District, Williamsburg Community School District, Forbes Road School District, Hollidaysburg School District, Huntingdon School District, Southern Huntingdon School District, Mount Union School District, Juniata Valley School District, Spring Cove School District, Glendale School District, Tussey Mountain School District and Indian Valley Middle School.

Juniata has purchased a new van for the middle school project and hired two new mobile educators: Doug Schunk, a recent Juniata graduate from Altoona, Pa., and Delores Smith, who previously was a science teacher in the Tussey Mountain School District.

While Science in Motion's high school curriculum centers on chemistry and biology, the middle school program will address lessons in physical sciences, life sciences, earth and space science, and environmental science and ecology.

"Students will do better on assessment tests and become more interested in science if they have had access to scientific equipment and computers to get hands-on experience," Mulfinger says. "Pennsylvania students will start being tested in science in 2007 as part of the federal requirements of the No Child Left Behind legislation and we believe bringing Science in Motion into the middle schools will act as a springboard to get top scores."

Mulfinger and the Science in Motion staff held workshops for area middle school science teachers at the college this summer, and from those meetings came several cutting-edge science lessons that are mobile, yet intriguing enough to inspire budding scientists.
Examples of some of the self-contained science units are:

--Starlab: This is an inflatable planetarium designed to be inflated by a fan or portable pump inside a gymnasium or multipurpose room. The lab resembles a similar version of the inflatable bouncing chambers seen at county fairs and amusement parks. Starlab can seat 25 to 35 students and is outfitted with computers and projectors that can take students through, if not the universe, then an extensive astronomy lesson. "The equipment projects, star, sky coordinates and planets," says Norm Siems, professor of physics and the college's resident astronomer. "It looks very representative of the real sky. I was very impressed with it."

--Students interested in earth science will learn to read and analyze a seismograph, which records vibrations within the earth, such as earthquakes. The middle-schoolers will use a spring-loaded board that simulates the vibrations produced in an actual earthquake.

--Life Science lessons in dissection will be more involving for the entire class by using video dissection microscopes. These small magnifying microscopes can be connected to a computer monitor so an entire group of students can see a dissection procedure up close. "The other students can be much more involved than if they had to wait their turn to see through the microscope," Mulfinger explains.

--Lessons in physics will be supplied by a miniature rollercoaster made by the educational toy company K'NEX. The coaster, which is made from connectable plastic and when completed is about the size of an office desk, provides insight into acceleration, velocity and other principles of physics.

--A ripple tank, which is roughly the size of a large household aquarium, will allow students to observe and analyze simulated ocean waves, soundwaves and microwaves.

The grant for the one-year pilot program was awarded to Juniata because of its extensive outreach experience with the high school Science in Motion program. In addition, support from local legislators such as state Senator Robert Jubelirer and state Representative Larry Sather, have supported state funding for the high school program for the past six years. "I don't think we would have been able to get this grant to create the middle school program without Rep. Sather and Sen. Jubelirer's continuous support."

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.