Modesto's Franklin Elementary celebration puts learning in action

naustin@modbee.comMarch 14, 2014 

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    alternate textNan Austin
    Title: Education reporter
    Coverage areas: K-12 education, Yosemite Community College District
    Bio: Nan Austin has been a copy editor and reporter at The Modesto Bee for 24 years. She has an economics degree from CSU Stanislaus and previously worked at the Merced Sun-Star and Turlock Journal.
    Recent stories written by Nan
    On Twitter: @nanaustin
    E-mail: naustin@modbee.com

— Science lessons came with marshmallows, seeds, a hovering (but harmless) drone and rat skulls at Franklin Elementary School’s Read Across America family night.

Some 200 kids and parents joined in the “STEAM”-themed night on Thursday. That’s STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – plus the arts, said Principal Carol Brooks. Teachers came up with, and found materials for, their own activities, she said. “I have very resourceful teachers.”

The annual literacy event at the school off Maze Boulevard also included hands-on Dr. Seuss art activities. “It feels good to be a kid again,” said mom Emma Nuñez with a laugh as she completed a stick figure with what might have been green butterfly wings.

After-school helper Elyse Rowan encouraged parents and kids to dive in and create. What can she teach with art? “Everything!” Rowan said. “Fine motor skills, manipulating glue and things, using creativity – I want them to be able to grab materials and make something,” she said.

Outside, a shoe-box-size drone buzzing above with a video camera followed the commands of Thomas Davis. The batteries last for only 10 minutes, he said.

At an engineering station, reading coach Nichelle Simpson timed teams of kids and parents constructing towers out of marshmallows and uncooked spaghetti. “They try to make the tallest structure they can, free-standing. If they make a mistake, they have to work together to come up with a plan,” she said.

It was Simpson’s second event using the project. The first was with teachers. “These students are a lot more creative than the teachers. Teachers try too hard and they think they know it all. Students aren’t afraid to try new things,” Simpson said.

Calvin Ewing, working with four fellow fourth-graders, said what he liked best about the exercise was the teamwork. “I think we can get it and win,” he said. Was he learning anything? “Yeah, we probably are,” he said glumly.

Second-grader Eduardo Rena learned a lot from dissecting owl pellets. “I just learned (owls) don’t eat bones. I thought they would, but they, like, throw them up,” he said, proudly showing a rat skull he’d found.

In Jeff Bakker’s fifth-grade classroom, twins David and Pablo Negrete-Torres, 8, dug into the pellets with glee, calling out the tiny bones they’d found.

Dad Pedro Negrete said he liked the hands-on lesson. “They’re discovering something new,” he said.

“This is wild. I love this stuff – especially the parents’ expressions,” Bakker said as he spun between tables to help kids identify the itty-bitty bones.

“The kids are ecstatic! It’s supercool,” said Vice Principal Lizette Alums as she shuttled among rooms. “These lessons incorporate so many things. Kids love this stuff. This is hopefully how we’ll be running our schools in the future.”

Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at naustin@modbee.com or (209) 578-2339. Follow her on Twitter @NanAustin.

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