Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Lending Labs Help Science Students

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Lending Labs Help Science Students

Article excerpt

Lending libraries offering science equipment have been created in the Pittsburgh region to help level the playing field between poorer school districts and richer school districts so all children have access to materials that will enhance their science education.

"Even when you're highly supported by the administration, as a public school teacher you're always stretched for funds to get the materials you need," said Janet Waldeck, a physics teacher at Pittsburgh Allderdice High School in Squirrel Hill.

That's especially true for constantly changing fields such as science and technology, where older learning materials quickly become outdated. To ensure that Pittsburgh students have access to accurate, more expensive learning materials, Ms. Waldeck, a 2015 state finalist for teaching excellence in math and science, began creating a series of science learning kits, including equipment and lesson plans, in chemistry and physics.

"When the teacher opens up a kit, they don't have to do the scavenger hunt of asking for materials or needing money," said Ms. Waldeck. "In 10 minutes they've got eight to 10 stations set up in their classroom, and their students can work on that activity for up to two weeks."

Ms. Waldeck, who has a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Stanford University, began developing her physics and chemistry kits in the summer of 2012 with the support of Carnegie Mellon University chemistry professor Catalina Achim. Ms. Achim offered to help launch the lending-library program through the Center for Nucleic Acid Science and Technology, known as CNAST, which includes students and faculty from CMU and the University of Pittsburgh.

Ms. Waldeck's kits are housed in Chevron Science Center at Pitt, where they complement the Pitt Kit biology program already in place. She said that since starting her library, she has worked consistently with about 25 middle and high schools in the Pittsburgh Public Schools.

When an educator borrows one of these kits, Pitt chemistry professor George Bandik, who works closely with Ms. Waldeck to develop and maintain the library, calls upon the students in the undergraduate chemistry group he sponsors to help educators introduce the lesson in their classroom.

"As a teacher, doing something new with 30-some kids can be chaotic. So to have the support from undergraduate students is a big help," Ms. Waldeck said. "And for those students, it really enriches their college experience."

Inspired by Ms. Waldeck's success, Ms. Achim and her colleagues at CNAST have created their own set of kits, initiated with a $25,000 grant from the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation. Like Ms. Waldeck's kits, they are available for local educators to borrow for free.

The six CNAST chemistry and biology kits each contain three modules, making a total of 18 one-hour activities. …

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