Education

Cell science seekers look deep into pond water at Stanislaus State

Fifth-grader Alexia Ruiz gets a lesson on focusing with one or both eyes from dad Elias Ruiz, a middle school science teacher, after having trouble focusing her microscope during Science Saturday at California State University, Stanislaus, in Turlock, Calif., on Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014.
Fifth-grader Alexia Ruiz gets a lesson on focusing with one or both eyes from dad Elias Ruiz, a middle school science teacher, after having trouble focusing her microscope during Science Saturday at California State University, Stanislaus, in Turlock, Calif., on Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014. naustin@modbee.com

One hundred trillion cells of 11-year-old Katelyn Anderson leaned over the murky, scum-laden pond, squeezing a strawlike pipette to draw up the yuckiest water she could find. That’s where the good stuff is, she knew, in the yuck.

“It’s harder than it looks,” she finally said with frustration, turning for help to red-shirted biology majors leading the Science Saturday “Secret Life of Cells” event at California State University, Stanislaus.

The morning’s exploration started with a quick intro for the roughly 40 kids and adults filling the second-floor lab. The human body, for example, begins with a single cell that multiplies and develops into 100 trillion cells of 200 different types, forming muscle, blood, skin and all the rest, biology professor Mark Grobner said.

A video showed magnified images of simple beings in soft pastels floating balletlike to music, an optimistic preview of what they might see through the hefty university microscopes. Mastering the microscope became a minicourse in itself.

Then it was out to the sunny pond behind the Naraghi Hall of Science for samples. Katelyn was among about a dozen young discoverers peering down into the muck at the edge of the water.

“I really like science. I just like to explore everything,” she said with a grin.

A few yards away, 9-year-old Sammy Carlsen knelt between plants and rocks, reaching with a steady hand toward an algae-coated rock to fill his pipette with microscopic masses.

Robert Wharton stood near, looking over the scene with a wide smile. It was a campus Science Day that convinced him to major in biology, looking foward to a future as a veterinarian, he said later.

“It’s a nice atmosphere,” he said between helping kids maneuver glass slides into view.

Focusing their shared microscope in turns, Juan Cardenas, 11, and Eric Rodriguez, 12, said they were having a good time. “It’s pretty cool – better than just sitting at home,” Juan said.

Taking notes at a table as the chatter volume rose around her, sixth-grade science teacher Wendy Payne said she came to watch and learn about teaching cell science. “The standards have just changed. We used to do just earth science. Now we have cells,” she said.

The state’s 2013 makeover of science standards were not part of Common Core but align with it and hew to the learn-by-doing mantra put in practice at the university event.

Science Saturday organizer Jesus Garcia, a 2014 Stanislaus State graduate, said the events bring in new students each time. “It’s always a new crop, which is a good thing,” he said.

“This is great,” Grobner said as he gazed around the crowded room. “We’re hoping to continue making it bigger and better. Science can be fun.”

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