Program helps students sharpen skills in science and math

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 1, 2012

By Sarah Campbell
SALISBURY — Students sliced into cow hearts, designed their own homes, experimented with neutralization and created ecosystems to demonstrate predator-prey relationships Wednesday.
And those are just a few of the things rising seventh, eighth and ninth-graders have experienced during Salisbury High School’s Summer Academy of Science and Math.
The academy invites students from all over Rowan County, including public, private and home schoolers, to participate in hands-on learning.
The only requirements are an interest in science and math as well as grades of B or higher in those subjects by the end of the school year.
Private donors fund the academy, with students paying just $20 a week to attend. Each child is allowed to participate in two of the four-week sessions.
About 250 students have attended this summer. They’ve been immersed in subjects including virtual reality, environmental science, chemistry, anatomy, physics and pharmacology.
Brian Whitson, a Salisbury High School science teacher who helps coordinate the academy, said the program aims to provide some enrichment during the summer months.
“It’s really designed to get our students excited about science and math,” he said. “It’s designed to give them exposure and for them to go in and really accelerate in those courses”
Whitson said the curriculum gives students the boost they need in order to take more rigorous science and math classes.
“Really, the whole purpose is to try to get more students interested in math and science so they can be globally competitive for the 21st century,” he said.
The summer academy kicked off five years ago prior to the debut of the school’s science and math focus.
“We had a lot of people in the community who were really concerned about the United States not producing enough graduates in the math and science field,” Whitson said. “This is one of the ways we’re trying to reduce that deficit.”
Getting their hands dirty
Amber Lawson, a Salisbury High School biology teacher, said her students have gotten their hands dirty this week dissecting frogs, cow eyeballs, cow hearts and starfish.
“The digestive system and the flow of food in a frog’s anatomy is very smiler to humans so when they study humans or other animals this will help them,” she said.
Lawson said many of the children haven’t had the chance to dissect before the academy.
“This gives them that exposure,” she said. “During the school year a teacher might not have time to do dissections because they are trying to stay with the curriculum.”
Ashley Medina, a rising eighth-grader at Erwin Middle, said the dissections were “kind of nasty,” but they ended up being neat.
Anthony McKeithan, a rising eighth grade at Knox Middle, said he didn’t mind them.
“It’s not exactly what I expected because dissection is a lot more technical than people think because you have to make the exact cuts in the right place,” he said. “This is probably stuff I’m going to learn this year so at least I’ll have a head start.”
Lawson said students learned about DNA and forensic last week.
“They got DNA out of their cheek cells and we made little DNA necklaces,” she said.
Challenging andengaging
McKeithan, a self-proclaimed science lover, said overall he’s found the academy both challenging and engaging.
“I’ve gotten to learn a bunch of new and interesting things that I didn’t know before,” he said. “And we’ve been studying two of my favorite subjects, chemistry and biology, which I really liked.”
Whitson is teaching a unique class in virtual reality.
Students get to build their own dream house through a computer program, but they have to make sure the dimensions add up.
Students end up using architecture, geometry and engineering skills. They also get a chance to problem solve and collaborate, lessons Whitson said carry over to real life.
Bethanie Stauffer, a rising seventh-grader at Knox, said she wanted to take part in the academy.
“These are two of my favorite subjects,” she said. “It’s actually been a lot of fun because we’ve gotten to do experiments.”
Whitson said he’s hoping to fuse some of the hands-on learning that students receive during the summer into the school’s regular curriculum this year.
“We’re working on revamping the high school programs so that we have a lot of enrichment opportunities because at this point they are just taking classes,” he said.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.