Smithfield Herald

Science teachers go to school

Teachers conduct an experiment using different soil types.
Teachers conduct an experiment using different soil types.

For one day recently, science teachers from across the Triangle became students, conducting science experiments and asking questions of their instructors.

Bayer CropScience, a division of pharmaceutical giant Bayer, played host to the science day, where teachers learned new experiments to use in their classrooms.

For one experiment, teachers donned plastic gloves and filled containers with different types of soil. They then poured grape soda into the containers to observe how the different soil types treated the soda.

The soil experiment was just one of many on a day that Bayer CropScience has dubbed “Making Science Make Sense.” The annual event drew science teachers for grades 3-5.

The day also featured a section on “science magic,” that included experiments like sucking a hard-boiled egg into a glass bottle and using dry ice to create a crystal ball.

“When you teach science, you want kids to enjoy it, and you’ve got to make it real life,” said Malinda Turnage, who teaches fourth grade at Meadow School.

Turnage partnered with Susan Moore, who teachers fourth grade at River Dell Elementary, on their experiments.

“It’s all about making science relative to the children, and they love hands-on activities,” Moore said.

Both teachers said the experiments they learned would fit well with a new state curriculum that emphasizes inquiry-based learning. In inquiry learning, students have to show not only the answer to a problem but also how they arrived at the answer.

“I ask my students, ‘Why do you think this could happen?’ and they have to be able to support their reason,” Moore said.

Each experiment represented a scientific concept that students could learn through seeing it firsthand. For example, in the experiment in which a Bayer scientist was able to coax a hard-boiled egg into a glass bottle, the concept was air pressure.

The scientist placed a lit birthday candle in one end of the hard-boiled egg and placed the egg, candle down, on the mouth of the battle. While lit, the candle raised the air pressure in the bottle; when the flame went out, the pressure went down, and the egg dropped into the bottle.

Inspiring science leaders

Bayer CropScience held the event at its research station off of N.C. 42 East. There, scientists are creating new seeds to help farmers grow better crops. Such work sometimes includes tinkering with plant DNA, to increase yield and disease resistance, for example.

In one of their experiments, teachers extracted DNA from a strawberry.

“It looks like a white strand against the red background, so that fruit is a really good way to teach about DNA,” said Kurt Boudouck, who works for Bayer in Research Triangle Park.

For each experiment, the Bayer scientists highlighted careers that would use the knowledge gained from the particular experiment. For the soil experiment, that could mean a career as a research scientist, a wetlands specialist, a watershed technician or soil conservationist, among others.

The ultimate goal of “Making Science Make Sense” is inspiring students to pursue careers in science.

“It’s those young people that will bring us the next innovation,” Boudouck said.