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Recent Articles and Notes about Quincy High School

Experiencing an Experiment

Thursday, April 6, 2006

QJHS physical science students are getting hands-on exercises that foster curiosity and collaboration

From left, Jeremiah Henaifesh, Alex Schrand and Krista Mast complete a lab experiment on acids and bases in their ninth grade physical science class at Quincy Junior High School. (H-W Photo/Jennifer Coombes)

By Holly Wagner

Herald-Whig staff writer

Students in Matt McClelland's freshman physical science class are part of an experiment themselves.

The youngsters were studying chemistry Tuesday, learning how to make serial solutions and the best way to determine if the solutions were either acids or bases.

The hands-on exercise allowed for plenty of curiosity and collaboration, as the students queried each other on the directions, compared results and shared their observations and analyses.

The activity is part of the Science for Life Project being introduced in Quincy Public Schools. The changes were begun at the primary grades over the past few years and have worked their way to the Junior High level.

McClelland teaches out of a textbook titled "Issues, Evidence and You" published by the Science Education for Public Understanding Program, called familiarly SEPUP.

"It's pretty different" compared to last year, McClelland said. "They do activities now about 80 percent of the time, opposed to in the past when it was maybe 10 percent of the time. ... I think they understand it quite a bit more."

The materials for the students' chemistry project were assembled for them in plastic tubs that they carried to their table, which was shared by four students. After donning safety glasses, one pair prepared a serial solution of water and hydrochloric acid while the other pair did the same with sodium hydroxide. They then dipped bits of pH paper in the clear solutions, and noted the results. When they had completed that exercise, they added a drop of universal indicator solution. The result was one tray of liquid that covered the range of acids, with tints of orange and yellow, and the other tray that covered the range of bases, with tints from blue to green.

Matching up their trays showed them the entire spectrum of the pH scale, which brought exclamations of "that's cool" and "it looks like a rainbow."

The steps of the experiment were outlined in their text, and the instructions for analyzing what they'd done were to "Write a brief description that you could use to teach someone about this."

Student Keith Royalty said he liked "the experiments better than this book stuff."

His classmate Gary Newman agreed. McClelland "can explain things so they're easy to understand. It's easier than the book," he said.

The change in emphasis to inquiry-based learning and experimentation has involved teacher training and the purchase of new materials, supported financially by the district and the Quincy Foundation for Quality Education, which raises money from grants, donations and the public.

The program has received an overwhelmingly positive response from the school administration and the public, according to Luan Sandberg, the science teacher leader for the district and a third-grade teacher at Washington School.

McClelland attended a summer workshop to familiarize himself with the new curriculum.

He said he has seen a "big improvement" in the students' scores with the new curriculum. Some students learn better in an activity setting, he said. Students who might have scored on the low end are moving up toward the middle.

"They're actually experiencing science instead of reading about some one else's experience. They can understand it for themselves," he said.

Contact Staff Writer Holly Wagner at (217) 221-3374 or

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