Discovery preschool style

Published 4:55 pm Friday, August 1, 2008

Brightly colored fuchsia balls and neon orange tracks enticed eager minds ready to discover new experiments at a training for the Alabama Math and Science Teaching Initiative Thursday.

Preschool teachers put themselves in the tiny shoes of their students by looking at the world from their perspective — short attention spans, hyperactivity and all.

“It’s killing me; I really want to hit this and test its aerodynamics,” said Dot Albritton of what looked like a teeter-totter with small foam blocks stacked on top.

The AMSTI Pre-K pilot plans to instill teachers with the skills needed to engage their preschool students in hands-on science experiments. Students will get to actually build simple machines using axles, levers, pulleys and wheels.

Maria Young, a science specialist with AMSTI-UAH, said even 4 year olds can learn the basics of science.

“It gives them hands-on opportunities so they can build an interest and have that background knowledge,” Young said. “Before you try and teach them anything, you have to let them touch everything so they can understand what they are seeing.”

Hands worked busily to construct experiments using inertia and gravity. One set of ardent teachers created what looked like a looping roller coaster, which they sent several balls flying down to illustrate gravity’s force on the objects.

Tara Skiles of Alabaster works in the Office of School Readiness for Jefferson County.

“You can introduce them to new vocabulary with projects like this and then later on in another grade they will hopefully remember this experiment,” Skiles said. “We’re just trying to create a foundation.”

Teachers participating in the pilot program will receive the materials and supplies needed to conduct investigations in the classroom. Math and science specialists will also visit the classrooms to act as mentors for the teachers.

Denna Brown teaches pre-K at Shelby Elementary, the only Shelby County school with a typical preschool program.

“The whole idea is to ease the transition into kindergarten,” Brown said. “I think science is one of the things we tend to overlook. We focus so much on literacy and math but these basics are important too.”

Shelby Elementary’s pre-K program lost federal funding last year, but Brown said the Shelby County Board of Education stepped in to fund the program because of the increase in test scores seen in local elementary students.