UK partnership infuses Russell Cave with science

Author: Tammy L. Lane • First Posted: Monday, January 23, 2012

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The hands-on opportunities at UK's Center for Applied Energy Research appeal to fourth-graders from Russell Cave Elementary.

The hands-on opportunities at UK's Center for Applied Energy Research appeal to fourth-graders from Russell Cave Elementary.

The hands-on opportunities at UK's Center for Applied Energy Research appeal to fourth-graders from Russell Cave Elementary.CAER scientists take time for demonstrations with the children.CAER employees escort visitors through the lab off Iron Works Pike, where the kids wear safety goggles to observe each experiment.The youngsters see firsthand the power and effects of energy.One demonstration shows how rocks -- and pennies -- react to extreme pressure.The scientists patiently allow each child to take a turn.“This year, the kids are doing the lab tour first so they have the background knowledge of who these people are and where they work. They really get a picture of all the type of experiments going on there,” science teacher Julie Jones said beforehand.

The University of Kentucky’s Center for Applied Energy Research has partnered with Russell Cave Elementary since before today’s fourth-graders were born. For 10 years now, science teacher Julie Jones has coordinated school visits by CAER scientists and field trips to their laboratory off Iron Works Pike.

“It’s been a long partnership, and it’s evolved quite a bit,” Jones noted.

The relationship began after a parent who then worked at the lab suggested students come observe the CAER professionals and hear about various career possibilities. Initially, Jones invited a different scientist to Russell Cave every other week to lead small experiments, such as making thermometers or writing with invisible ink, and the series culminated with a tour and picnic at CAER. About three years into the partnership, she requested that the exchanges be more in-depth and aligned with her curriculum.

Gradually, Russell Cave shifted to more long-term projects with one main scientist, Bob Jewell, which added an element of consistency. Jewell now guides the fourth-graders through one larger experiment over several weeks, with the kids tracking data and charting results along the way.

“It’s a little bit deeper, but they still have fun with it,” said Marybeth McAlister, CAER’s communications manager.

She praised Jones for her initiative and dedication to growing the partnership, saying, “She’s an awesome teacher to work with and is always willing to say ‘Let’s try this!’”

The organizers have also flipped the schedule.

“This year, the kids are doing the lab tour first so they have the background knowledge of who these people are and where they work. They really get a picture of all the type of experiments going on there,” Jones said beforehand.

When the school bus pulled up to the CAER facility near the Kentucky Horse Park, excited youngsters spilled out and formed three groups for their 90-minute tour. The students met a handful of scientists and saw several demonstrations as they rotated through the building.

“It’s better because we get to experience it,” said Elvira Smith, who enjoyed the morning out of class.

At one stop, each child plunged his hand into a vat of sand to feel the effects of air flow in the fluidized bed. At another, a scientist used a 3,500-degree blowtorch to show how aluminum melts faster than graphite, which is a good conductor of heat and electricity. Other fourth-graders took turns manipulating a device to flatten pennies under extreme pressure, while classmates went outside to a greenhouse where flowers were frozen by liquid nitrogen.

“It’s fun, and we’re getting to learn cool things about science,” Moises Hernandez said during a short break.

The follow-up at Russell Cave, which starts this week, will involve measuring and mixing ingredients to make cement and later testing its strength over time. One concrete cylinder will use plain cement, and the other will be mixed with fly ash, a byproduct of burning coal.

Jewell will visit the school about a half-dozen times to run the machines and help the students think about what’s happening, analyze the data and determine what the numbers mean.

“We talk a lot in the lab about asking questions. There’s a lot of math involved, too, because they take measurements over time and graph it over time,” Jones noted.

What the youngsters will discover is that when the fly-ash concrete sits up awhile, it’s much stronger than the plain concrete. The same has proven true for Russell Cave’s partnership with CAER.

“We had a strong commitment to making it work, so we had to be flexible and change our program as we saw different needs arise. As a result, it’s gotten stronger and stronger. The kids get so much more out of it now,” Jones said.

For instance, by year’s end her students are asking more specific questions like “If I want to be a scientist, what do I have to do in school?”

“In elementary school, they really, really love science, but it’s hard just within school to help the kids see this as a real career opportunity,” Jones said. “With this partnership, they can see it with their own eyes.” 

Did you know?

As an outgrowth of its partnership with Russell Cave Elementary, the Center for Applied Energy Research sponsors an annual Energy Fair for local fourth-graders. A record 300 students from five schools attended the 2011 fair, including classes from Ashland, Harrison, Russell Cave, William Wells Brown and Yates.

Coming up

This year’s Energy Fair will be March 6 in the grand ballroom of the University of Kentucky’s Student Center. UK undergraduates will organize the exhibitors and demonstrations, while CAER scientists and other experts will be on hand to share experiments. For more information, email UK Energy Club coordinator Bree McCarney or call (859) 257-0219. 

Resources

Center for Applied Energy Research

Julie Jones, science teacher at Russell Cave Elementary, (859) 381-3571

Lori Bowen, elementary science content specialist for Fayette County Public Schools


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