Hands-On Education Students `Slosh' through Water and Writing for the Sake of Nature, Publication, Learning

By Post-Dispatch, Kathryn Holleman | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), January 30, 1995 | Go to article overview

Hands-On Education Students `Slosh' through Water and Writing for the Sake of Nature, Publication, Learning


Post-Dispatch, Kathryn Holleman, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Chemistry for Life and Writing for Publication are classes for the real world.

The two classes started this fall at Northwest High School. Both classes turn the usual high-school routine on its head. Instead of sitting through class, taking notes and writing papers, students have experiences that range from wading into rivers to corresponding with national magazines.

The teachers of both classes agreed that the best way for students to learn is by doing. They are enthusiastic about what students have done in the classes, while students say they have learned more about publishing and science than they ever thought they would.

Science For Everyone

Senior Mike White calls Chemistry for Life "probably the most fun you can have in school without getting in trouble."

Anyone who has spent hours in searching for lost electrons while balancing a chemical equation may take issue with the concept of chemistry as fun. But then they probably never have measured the bio-oxygen demand in a Missouri River tributary.

"I'm not a math person," senior Shannon Murphey said. "But I'm going to need chemistry when I go to college."

Shannon, who will be entering Deaconess College of Nursing in August, realizes that science will be an important part of her career.

"It's something I'll use every day," she said.

Brian Woods, a junior, says that chemistry will come in handy not only when he goes to college but in his Army Reserve job as a munitions expert.

"I stay awake for this class," he said.

"We make this class as hands-on, real-life as we can," said Nancy Farr, a Northwest science teacher.

Normally, high-school chemistry is geared toward students who are college-bound and likely to major in science or in a field that requires a background in chemistry. Traditional classes focus on solving detailed equations with complex calculations.

The science content in Chemistry for Life is not watered down, says Farr, but the focus is different.

"This is chemistry for everybody," Farr said. "It has gone from a focus on calculations to an environmental and social focus. We are trying to teach real-life science. We want students to be good citizens, good inhabitants of the earth."

One aim is to try to make students realize that chemistry has a place in everyday life. Recycling, for example, is a good way to illustrate the idea that matter neither can be created nor destroyed.

Farr said, "When you put stuff out on the curb, the truck comes and picks it up. It doesn't just disappear. That stuff is made of atoms; what happens to them? We talk about that."

Last week, Denise Lutes' fifth-hour Chemistry for Life class began to discuss conserving resources. A typical class project required students to practice recycling in their homes for seven days, make something such as artwork out of recycled materials or educate classmates about recycling through presentations or posters.

"There's not a lot of lecturing," Lutes said. "We average only two or three pages of notes per chapter."

Tests are just as unorthodox as the classwork. On the final, students will be expected to design a water system for an imaginary town on the basis of what they have learned throughout the year.

But students are expected to learn how to balance an equation.

"I actually like that part; it's challenging, too," said Brian Woods.

River Mapping Project

One semester of the class is spent entirely on water, Farr says.

The chemistry for Life students are part of the Missouri River Quality Network, a group involved in a three-year project that will map the water quality of the entire Missouri River and its tributary system. High schools all along the system have been volunteered to help with the project. Lafayette High School and the Parkway School District in west St. Louis County also are involved.

The project was set up by the Canyon Ferry Limnological Institute near Helena, Mont. …

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