Classroom of the Week | Science is blowing up in this sixth-grade classroom

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LEE — In Paula Duhon's sixth-grade science class at Lee Elementary School, students aren't afraid to ask questions and the teacher isn't afraid if she doesn't have the answers.

During an April 4 class on the circulatory system and blood types, a student asked a question about donor compatibility that went beyond the lesson listed on the worksheet before them.

"That's a good question," said Duhon. "Maybe we could look that up more."

She then gave her students the choice to read and complete the worksheet either as a class, or in their small lab groups; the students chose the latter.

"At this time of year, they're doing a lot of work by figuring things out on their own," said Duhon, proud of the students' sense confidence and autonomy.

"They work really well together. They're motivated. If you give them a challenge, they'll work together to figure it out," she said.

One example of seeing this in action was a previous and popular chemistry lab unit during which students were given a set of materials which, upon adding a catalyst, would result in either a hot or cold reaction. The students got to experiment in designing and testing their own hot and cold compress packs. To add more real-life application to the activity, students were given the cost of each material by unit of measurement, given a budget to "purchase" amounts in bulk and then create a markup of their products as if they were going to retail.

"It was really fun to learn about," said sixth-grader Reece Faggioni.

"Some people learn in different ways," said Kelly Molino.

"But Mrs. Duhon explains it in a way we can understand what we're doing and why we're learning it," Alyssa Hoctor said.

"And she's always super peppy about it," added Brooke Sargent.

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Michele Puleri, a fifth-grade math teacher at the school, sees how stoked students are to learn about science in Duhon's class. Her daughter, Mia Puleri, is in Duhon's class, which she nominated as a "Classroom of the Week."

"Paula has an amazing way of engaging her students and getting them excited about learning," said the parent. "She uses multiple modalities in her teaching that assists all students with learning the material in several ways that work with their learning style."

Duhon's students collaborate with each other, as well as other science professionals she invites in from local organizations like Flying Cloud Institute and Massachusetts Audubon Society.

Recently, she had her students learn about plant and animal cells by having them write a compare and contrast essay, make and present a slideshow presentation, and construct a three-dimensional model of one type of cell. Duhon said for many students in her class, this marked the first time they had to use multiple skills to show and tell others about their research in different ways.

Another project they're working on is setting up a "makerspace" on the second floor of the school where all students can collaborate and tinker with tools and materials to make their own designs and ideas come to life.

"Paula is passionate about her subject which translates into her students becoming excited about science. Paula exemplifies a teacher who cares about not only her subject, but her students as well," Michele Puleri said.

On Thursday afternoon, after Duhon's students went through a round of Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System testing, she let them blow off steam by participating in an interactive lab on lung capacity, which involved blowing up balloons.

"You have very healthy breathing, Delaney," Tess Olender commented to her classmate Delaney Reed. Olender's comical tone nearly caused Reed in inhale all the air she had just worked to put into the bright orange globe.

The students all seemed to have a blast, filling the classroom with laughter — a welcome reprieve, they said, after their "silent" and "stressful" essay tests.

Carter Marks said she wouldn't mind if more lessons, "even MCAS were more like this."

Said Emma Rankin, "Mrs. Duhon gets us so excited about things that we're actually understanding and absorbing information that we want to try to apply in real life."


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