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Helping Kids Get In Touch Assembling Materials For Science Classes Is Quite A Handful For Schools Workers

Mon., Jan. 22, 1996

Hands-on science means teachers need objects for kids to put their hands on - things like beetles, rocks, magnets, bubbles and earthworms.

Getting those everyday items into Spokane School District classrooms takes five people, a highly organized distribution system and a large metal warehouse on East Eighth Avenue.

On its shelves are spoons, sponges, squeegees, pulleys, pennies, paperclips, fishing line, fish bobbers, food coloring, pingpong balls, tennis balls and cotton balls …

If Rube Goldberg had a storehouse, this would be it.

Owl pellets, grass seed, super jumbo straws, marbles, feathers, plastic forceps, gravel, Popsicle sticks, rubber bands, balloons, tuning forks, whisk brooms, soil, thermometers, compasses, party blowers and birthday candles …

Hard candies, almond extract, apple juice, rice, honey, grits and M&Ms.;

“I figure if we ever got snowed in, we wouldn’t starve,” said warehouse supervisor Robyn Norwood.

Workers assembling the 42 different science kits often wonder what the teachers do with all the stuff.

“Sometimes we steal a glance in a teacher’s guide,” said Bobbi Duncan as she checked the contents of a Mixtures and Solutions kit returned from an eight-week engagement in a sixth-grade classroom.

The kit might go to five different elementary schools this year.

Spokane elementary schools adopted a hands-on science program last year. Planning for the change began in 1989, said science coordinator Scott Stowell.

Stowell is known in national science circles as an educator on the forefront of the hands-on movement. Smithsonian magazine quoted him on the topic in September.

The best minds in science believe children learn more by conducting experiments and observing results, Stowell said.

Better than any textbook, hands-on science ties physics, biology and chemistry to the real world. The activities engage all the students’ senses helping them to remember what they learn.

Norwood backed up Stowell’s science expertise by figuring out a distribution system that could get live mealworms to kindergartners. The children watch the worms change from egg to larvae to pupa to adult.

The district buys some kits whole from commercial suppliers. Whenever possible, Norwood purchases bulk items locally, saving hundreds of dollars per kit.

Last summer, warehouse worker Debra Bell spent two weeks bottling 2,700 insects and spiders. The bugs arrived in buckets. Bell fished each out with tweezers and sealed it in a bottle of alcohol.

The 3-inch grasshoppers and tiny fleas were dead on arrival.

“I couldn’t have killed ‘em,” Bell said.

The workers enjoy imagining Spokane children learning from the kits.

That makes the 50-pound Pebbles, Sand and Silt kit seem as light as the 5-pound Butterfly kit.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

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