When it comes to teaching science, Jason Hodge is sure of one thing.
“I’m a big, big believer in the fact that if a kid enjoys what they’re doing, they’re going to learn something,” he said. “They’re going to listen to you, they’re going to be willing to work with you and they’re just gonna wanna do it.”
As a coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture Mobile Science Activity Center Program, Hodge travels throughout western Kentucky towing a science lab trailer. On Nov. 19, the trailer sat beside Fort Campbell’s Barsanti Elementary School, periodically filling with groups of third and fourth graders throughout the day.
“Come on back,” Hodge said to Melissa O’Dell’s third grade class, leading them into the trailer.
The group of 18 students lined each side of the aisle, pressing against countertops upon which sat the supplies for the day’s project. Hodge reviewed the process of seed germination with the children and soon got them started on planting seeds in cups of dirt.
“We use [Kentucky’s] three major…agricultural crops: corn, soybeans and wheat,” Hodge said. “Most children realize what a corn field is when they’re driving down the road and look out and see it. Do they actually know what the seed looks like that that corn produces and comes from? So that’s what they’re actually getting to work with today.”
Seed germination is just one of the projects offered by the Mobile Science Activity Center Program. Teachers can choose from about a dozen activities, including soybean lip balm, ice cream in a bag and crop seed identification.
“Everything we do is somehow ag-related,” Hodge said. “Everything we do also correlates with Kentucky’s core content in science. It fits what the teachers are teaching in the classroom.”
Teachers are faced with tough limitations when it comes to hands-on projects, Hodge said.
“A lot of schools that we visit throughout the state do not have the facilities to have a science lab,” he said. “They just don’t have the facilities or the time, [which] is another issue. Their schedules are crammed so full, you know, they’ve got to cover this, this, this and this, there’s no time and that’s usually what gets kicked is the hands-on part of things.”
New this year at Barsanti is the Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math program, or STEAM. Ginny Cronin, who teaches the program to the elementary students, said the classes visit her weekly for about an hour of hands-on activities in those subjects.
“We’re trying to incorporate more science into the curriculum, because that’s where it’s all been going,” she said.
Before Barsanti opened two years ago, Cronin taught at Jackson Elementary School. Hodge visited Jackson with his trailer then, and Cronin said she is glad she had the forethought to book him for last week’s trip to Barsanti.
For a flat fee of $100 per day, Kentucky schools can book up to three days at a time with Hodge and his mobile science center. But Hodge’s waiting list is long.
“We are up to scheduling approximately two and a half to three years in advance,” he said. “I am actually booking the ‘14-‘15 school year now.”
Cronin said Hodge will not be able to revisit Barsanti next year, but will be returning in 2014.
“It opens up their minds,” she said about the hands-on activities. “It gets them to think about things in different ways and see people do things in different ways.”
“It’s an excellent program, overall,” Hodge said. “I don’t like to pat ourselves on the back too much, but you know, we’re booking three years in advance. We’re doing something right.”