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Making the Grade: River Forest Middle School

River Forest Middle School science teacher Jory Mathews talks with his sixth-grade students about scientific experimental procedures.

HOBART — Armed with a yard stick and a bouncy ball, children in Jory Mathews' sixth-grade science class at River Forest Middle School trooped out to the courtyard for the first scientific experiment of the new school year.

It's a simple experiment, Mathews told his students as he shepherded them outside. 

"This is the second day of the experiment," he told students.

"When we were in the classroom yesterday, we bounced the ball on the classroom floor to measure how high the ball bounced. Today, you can try different surfaces outside including concrete, dirt, brick, pavement and grass."

The goal, Mathews said, is to see which surface allows the ball to bounce higher. But more importantly, Mathews said, he wants students to understand how to conduct a scientific experiment. He wants them to become familiar with terms like hypothesis, variables, motion, matter and earth science, some of which will come later in the school year.

"Science is everywhere around you," he told his students.

"Cellphones used to be science fiction; now we take them everywhere we go. There's science in the fact that you can flip a switch and get light. Anytime you flush a toilet, that's science. Even those low-top and high-top gym shoes you like so much are science," he said.

"Those shoes are not just cool to look at," Mathews said, "but they are designed to be comfortable and safe for your feet. Science is in everything you do."

Sixth-graders Karly Bishop and Austin Wise thought the experiment was tremendous fun.

"We get a chance to go to a bunch of different places," Karly said. "We went onto the pavilion and dropped the ball. I thought that it would bounce higher on the brick pavers, but it was the concrete on the pavilion where it bounced the highest."

Austin said he thought both days of measuring the distance was fun. "I love science but when I grow up, I think I want to be a race car driver like my grandfather and uncle," he said.

Mathews, who has taught in other local schools including a Navajo reservation in Arizona and in Japan, has been with River Forest Community School Corp. five years. He graduated from Lake Station High School, and his parents graduated from River Forest High School.

Mathews said he wants students to learn how to do a proper scientific experiment, starting with a question, then a hypothesis, gather the data and analyze the results.

"By practicing these steps, it will make it a lot easier for them. These are tools that will help students prepare for mandated testing. I want them thinking like young scientists," he said.

Mathews said he has 120 sixth-graders, and it will be a busy year learning a little physics and forms of energy, measurements, astronomy and the planets in the solar system.

"On Monday, we got a chance to talk about the eclipse and it's one of our standards in science," Mathews said. "The standards also call for students to learn about biology and studying living things in our ecosystem."

Get a full recap and check out the 2016-2017 school year Making the Grade series here:

Check out a gallery featuring your back to school photos here: