Teaming up for science

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Karina Magnus, in red, and Justine Laumatia, fifth-grade students at Ramsey Magnet School, check out fossils Thursday during a science program with students at Lake City High School.

COEUR d'ALENE - Beeping sounds emanated from science teacher Jamie Esler's classroom Thursday at Lake City High School.

Inside the room, high school students and fifth-graders crowded around lab tables as the younger learners tested the penetrating ability of different types of radiation.

Using handheld monitors, the students placed pieces of glass, cardboard and lead between the devices and samples of safe radioactive materials, checking for the tell-tale beeps that signaled the presence of radioactivity.

The fifth-graders were among 124 from Ramsey Magnet School of Science who traveled to the high school for a day of immersion in science with their older peers.

"It's great for Ramsey students to have this exposure to secondary science education as it fuels their passion for science and lets them see what's in store as they continue their schooling in the Coeur d'Alene School District," said Ramsey Principal Anna Wilson. "They make connections with high school students as mentors, and the day demonstrates how scientific concepts build on one another."

The young students visited classrooms for sessions in biology, chemistry, physical science and math.

There are lessons in it for the older students as well. Esler said one of his high school students told him that after working with the younger children, she felt she had a better grasp on the concept.

Lake City Principal Deanne Clifford visited some of the rooms and observed.

"I'm really proud of our teachers for pulling this together," Clifford said.

When the fifth-graders visited teacher Ray Tekverk's high school science class, they got a crash course in paleontology.

During the "Stones and Bones" session, Tekverk held up a sample of trilobite fossils preserved in stone.

"This is a real one. It's 425 million years old," Tekverk said.

Tekverk helped the youngsters envision the size of a Tyrannosaurus rex, explaining that if one were in their classroom, its head would stick out the back wall of the room and its tail would be brushing the board at the front of the room. The dinosaur's back would break through the ceiling, Tekverk said.

"Are fossils dirty?" asked one of the fifth-grade students.

Tekverk reached into a drawer in his desk and produced a small, dark object and held it up, explaining to the children it was "dinosaur poop."

When the children reacted with distaste, Tekverk said: "When its 60 or 70 million years old, we don't worry where it came from."

The students then went to lab tables and working with older students, they examined reproductions of fossils including prehistoric claws and teeth, and placed them on a timeline provided by Tekverk.

The imitation fossils were created by one of Tekverk's students, Courtney Johnson, a senior. Johnson has participated in the age-blended science learning day at Lake City for the past three years.

She said the high school students enjoy having a chance to teach rather than be taught, and for herself it's an opportunity to share her love of science with the younger children.

Johnson, who is already in the U.S. Army Reserve, said she plans to eventually study biology at the university level and continue on to become a veterinarian.

Science teacher Jan Fay had the fifth-graders who visited her classroom perform simple chemistry experiments testing the reactions of acids and bases.

Fay said the experience benefits her older students in myriad ways, sometimes pointing them toward careers in science and education.

"It shows them they've really learned something," Fay said. "They realize that they can mentor in science."

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