By Katherine Long

MATTYDALE — Young scientists at St. Margaret’s School in Mattydale will have a new space in which to experiment and learn this year with the completion of a hands-on laboratory, part of the school’s new science program.

St. Margaret’s is introducing LabLearner, an “all-in-one” science program that provides a whole-school curriculum, a hands-on laboratory, and ongoing training and support for teachers.
   Founded in 1996, LabLearner is used in hundreds of schools around the country, according to company President Keith Verner. The curriculum focuses on core scientific concepts, using a “spiraling” model to teach, revisit and build on students’ understanding of the concepts from year to year. The hands-on laboratory component is designed to integrate seamlessly with the curriculum, Verner said.

“Science is not just a body of knowledge, it’s also a skill set,” he explained. “You can have all the information in your head, but if you don’t know how to translate it with the tools and equipment of science, it’s meaningless in the end. So we teach kids how to use the real tools of science.”

Verner was at St. Margaret’s Sept. 1, ready to transform an empty classroom and a heap of boxes into a working science lab. LabLearner supplies all the materials, from lesson plans to tables to microscopes — and even some crisp, white lab coats.

In a matter of hours, the lab was complete, and St. Margaret’s teachers were the first to use it as they were trained in the program the following day. This year, students from kindergarten through sixth grade will spend time in the lab once a week.

St. Margaret’s was able to introduce LabLearner through the support of community donors, funding received through the school district and grant writing. The choice was an important one for St. Margret’s Principal Amanda Hopkins.

“As a teacher I’ve always loved science, but there are a few obstacles to teachers doing science in the rooms,” she said. “For example, [in a typical classroom] you don’t have the space to set up an experiment and then leave it because you need that same table for reading group.”

Pulling together sometimes-pricey materials can also be a challenge, she added, as can manpower.

“When you’re doing hands on experiments with children, you need adults, you need another pair of hands,” Hopkins said. “This program allows us to have the science teacher dedicated to teaching science and the classroom teacher — two teachers working together, team teaching science and giving children that personal attention they need throughout the lesson.”

Longtime St. Margaret’s teacher Marcia Streeter will be taking the lead role in the science lab, mentoring teachers and educating students. It’s exciting, she said, because instruction in science needs to be at the forefront for today’s students.

Bishop Robert J. Cunningham blessed the lab Sept. 9. See video from Syracuse Catholic Television below.

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