Williams College Summer Science Lab gets big reaction from students


Photo Gallery | PHOTOS: Williams College Summer Science Lab

WILLIAMSTOWN — There are plenty of creams, tablets and elixirs on the market that claim to cure health problems and ease ailments, but do they actually work?

During this month's Williams College Summer Science Lab sessions, students were able to use professional tools to investigate household compounds, putting things like antacids to the test to see which ones really work.

"That's why we do chemistry, so we know we're not being lied to," Darla Torres told her students during last week's session.

Torres is a rising Williams College sophomore, and part of a cohort of five Williams students and three from the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, who have helped teach the fifth- and sixth-graders participating in this year's Summer Science Lab. The college students have been working with local teachers to develop science curriculum for North Adams Public Schools.

The multiple-grant-funded Summer Science Lab was first offered in 1999, through a collaborative effort led by Williamstown Elementary School (WES) fifth-grade teacher Madeline Levy, and Williams College professors David Richardson and Charles "Chip" Lovett. Once serving only WES students, the program now includes youths from across the Berkshires and beyond.

Stephen Bechtel, director of this year's Summer Science Lab sessions, said that the program has expanded its mission twofold: to get youngsters more engaged with and educated in the scientific process and how things work at the molecular level, and to help aspiring scientists and educators understand how to teach science.

"The goal is for [the college students] to work with the kids to be explorers and learn how to take an experiment and say how this applies to real life," Bechtel said.

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Rising MCLA junior Jessica Wojcik said that this past week she got to teach students using a lesson she wrote into fourth-grade curriculum. "It was a great opportunity to see how it would actually play out," she said.

Amy Racela, a rising sixth-grader at the Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter Public School in Adams, was part of Wojcik's "Awesome Atoms" lab group, along with sixth-grader Lila Holyoke, and fifth-grader Maggie Holyoke, who attend school in New York City.

Racela and her lab partners said the hands-on experiments helped them to better grasp the scientific processes involved.

"I like this better because it helps me understand what's going on instead of just reading about it in a book," Racela said.

Each day, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., the students would be introduced to daily "mysteries" they could solve by measuring and observing reactions and testing chemical compositions of unlabeled household liquids to figure out what they were.

"The experiments are the best part. They show you why you have a chemical reaction or why things change colors," said Igor Polotai, a rising WES sixth-grader.

On Thursdays, the fifth- and sixth-graders also tried their hands at teaching what they learned to their parents during an evening potluck presentation. Prior to the event, Bryce Blair, a rising fifth-grader from Sullivan Elementary School in North Adams, said he was eager to share his knowledge. "It's just fun," he said.

Tim Herrmann, a science teacher for Hoosac Valley Middle & High School in Cheshire lauded the learning opportunities the Summer Science Lab offers for all students involved. "This is the kind of way all students should get to experience science, through long-term, hands-on experiments," he said.


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