Boyle County Middle School science teacher Mike Tetirick is leaving three-beam balances, graduated cylinders and thermometers in the last century with landline phones and CD players. Instead, his eighth-graders are using state-of-the-art Vernier probes to measure everything from temperature to force to pH levels, and they’re likely the only students in the state to do so, he said.
“This isn’t just kid stuff,” he said. “It’s high-quality, high-level, but it can be applied to middle school.”
The probes — also used in Centre College and professional labs — collect various measurements during experiments and allow easy data transfer to a computer. Then, students use graphing software to study and manipulate the information, Tetirick said.
He secured the probes with a $5,000 grant from Boyle County Schools in January and used surplused and donated computers for graph analysis until upgrades afforded him a newer set of 15 computers this year.
The addition of the probes contributes to the school district’s overall push to incorporate modern technology in the classroom. Though many advocate the use of iPads and iPods, Tetirick said those devices can leave students stranded in an “app world” with limited ability to manipulate data. The probes, however, allow for a diverse range of experimentation and calculation.
His students recently used the probes to examine freezing and melting points, and they will measure the energy released from a burning marshmallow and the force exuded by a two-liter bottle rocket later this year, he said. They’ll also continually monitor pH levels in handmade eco-columns fashioned of layered two-liters containing worms, plants and brine shrimp.
Fellow teachers and administrators were so excited about Tetirick’s plan for the probes that they restructured the schedule for eighth-grade science students so each could use the new technology. The eighth grades now rotate every two weeks between Tetirick’s lab-based class and Tina Benson’s fundamentals-centered class.
“I’ll teach something like atoms, and then he reinforces it with lab work,” she said. “So we’re sort of complementing what each other teaches.”
Benson admitted her lab is not yet a 21st century environment, so Tetirick’s probe experiments give the students invaluable experience with modern technology as well as the scientific method. The hands-on approach also keeps them invested in their own learning, she said.
“A lot of times you go into a room, and there are always a few kids who aren’t engaged,” Benson said. “When you go into his room, everyone is involved and they’re doing real science.”
Kara Shelton, 13, said the close relationship between her classroom work and the studies of professionals is her favorite thing about the probes.
“I like it a lot better than just doing random experiments,” she said. “You actually get to see what the scientists see, do what the scientists do.”