Math, Science Enhance Students' Saturdays Duval Program Lets Kids Learn on Weekends

Article excerpt

Byline: Laura Diamond, Times-Union staff writer

Catherine Stringer knows what DNA is, but it's not taught in her science classes at Andrew Jackson High School.

For the past four Saturdays, Catherine has studied DNA and other advanced science concepts. The ninth-grader learned about DNA sequencing and spooling. Eventually, she will collect and analyze data from a mock crime scene and use DNA to identify the perpetrator.

Catherine received these lessons in genetics and molecular biology through the Saturday Stars program.

Duval County public schools started the free program three years ago to provide students with additional lessons in math and science. This year, nearly 200 from grades 7, 8 and 9 enrolled.

The six-week program is held at Florida Community College at Jacksonville so students are exposed to college campuses. Ideally, students will be inspired to finish high school and enroll in college, said Carolyn Girardeau, local director of the Urban Systemic Initiative, which sponsors the program.

The group works to improve student learning in science and math.

Through her DNA lessons, Catherine worked with Barry Moore, chairman of the natural sciences department at FCCJ's Kent Campus.

Moore zoomed around the science lab assisting each student. He helped them measure the space between each DNA fragment as a way to compare the DNA sample found at a crime scene with that of different suspects.

Catherine stumbled with some of the calculations, but Moore came to her rescue and showed her how to properly hold the ruler. Catherine said Moore's enthusiasm has made her more interested in science.

"To see how everything comes together is exciting," Catherine said. "This is really going to help me in my science and math classes because sometimes it's hard to understand why I need to know how things work. Now I see how it all works."

Most of the lessons focus on experiments.

Seventh-graders completed an experiment to determine which state of water -- solid, liquid or gas -- holds the most energy.

As part of the experiment, students placed ice cubes in a beaker and heated it. They used calculators and computers to measure and graph the different temperatures as water changed from ice to liquid to steam. …