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.
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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:
PORTAGE — The youngsters at Jones Elementary School in Portage were jumping up and down and dancing on the pavilion, clapping their hands and laughing as they grooved to "Cake by the Ocean," by DNCE, and "Uptown Funk," by Bruno Mars.
VALPARAISO — For several years, Lucky, the wheaten terrier, and her handler, Nancy Starewicz, traveled the Region helping young and old with her unique lessons. She came back recently, for a one-day special visit.
EAST CHICAGO — A group of Central High School students in Spanish 3 are learning about social justice issues in the Latin American countries of Nicaragua and Guatemala as they sell handwoven bracelets, or "pulseras," through May 15.
HAMMOND — While students at Bishop Noll Institute are in the classroom gaining a college preparatory experience grounded in Catholic values, the students also become the teachers in an innovative program where they teach younger Catholic elementary school students life principles.
LANSING — Ten years ago, some of the students and staff at Thornton Fractional South High School were looking for a gathering place where all students — gay, straight, transgender, black, white or Hispanic could gather and feel comfortable.
ST. JOHN — Last November, Crown Point Christian School computer/technology teacher Luke Mazur began working with a volunteer organization that connects people who need a prosthetic hand or arm with volunteers, like himself, who are making them using a 3-D printer.
SCHERERVILLE — At St. Michael Catholic School, the preschoolers are participating in a STEM project, as part of the entire school's taking STEM education, that is, science, technology, engineering and math, to a new level with updated technology.
HAMMOND — Applying for college and financial aid can be a confusing process for the most savvy senior, but the School City of Hammond is hoping to simplify the process with a new class called The Blueprint.
VALPARAISO — When Wheeler High School juniors and seniors walked into Dianne Langston's dual credit anatomy and physiology class Friday, the topic on the board said: "The Microscopic Anatomy of Skeletal Muscle."
WHITING — Most people don't debate that Abraham Lincoln was one of the greatest U.S. presidents who ever lived. He has always been quoted widely by Republicans and Democrats, and heralded for his honesty and integrity.
HOBART — Engineering design and development, computer assisted design, robotics, programming and 3D printing — you'd think you were on a college campus when viewing a list of courses offered for the next semester at Hobart High School.
GARY — If you stop by Jamie Wolverton’s introduction to engineering class at Roosevelt College and Career Academy, you might find students on the floor building a roller coaster, or at their desk calculating the materials, labor cost, profit and overhead for a bridge project.
VALPARAISO — Valparaiso High School senior Dawson Brown has been working for several different construction companies in the last few years and welcomed the chance to work on the Grand Trunk Train Depot.
MERRILLVILLE — Instructional math coach Mike Ewing moved around the room quickly from the board to students as he used a pizza pie to explain fractions to Merrillville Intermediate School fifth-graders.
HAMMOND — Five years ago, George Rogers Clark High School administrators joined forces with the state and Conexus Indiana, its manufacturing and logistics initiative, to implement new elective courses to help students become job-ready.
CHESTERTON — It didn't take too much time for the youngsters in Jason Conway's fourth-grade class at Liberty Elementary School to think about the term "being a leader" and about how they exhibited that character trait.
Carmen is an award-winning journalist who has worked at The Times newspaper for 20 years. Before that she also had stints at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., The Post-Tribune and The News Dispatch in Michigan City.
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