School science lab is popular with Owen Middle students

Barbara Hootman

Owen Middle School’s after school science lab is a well-kept fun secret. It is where projects like creating slime and DNA testing are done weekly.

“The science lab is a unique grant-partnership (Owen Middle School partnering with Warren Wilson College) that allows for any number of students (grades 6-8) to attend an after school science lab,” Brittany Krasutsky, Owen Middle School science teacher said. “We have had as many as 56 students a session and each student has the option of taking the bus home at 4:40 p.m. It means that students who rely on bus transportation are able to stay for a specific hands on, science-based learning opportunity. These are usually the students who can’t stay for sports or traditional after school club activities. The planned science activities bring to life science, math and language arts concepts that are otherwise challenging to comprehend.

“Learning about polymer chains helps students understand properties of molecules, as these are macromoleules (very large ones) and can be seen and manipulated. The program meets once a week after school on the Owen Middle campus through the academic year, but not during academic breaks. It is a grant based program with 19 sessions covering a variety of topics.”

The goals of the program are to improve the proficiency of Owen Middle School students in science, math and language arts through scientific exploration.

For Warren Wilson student volunteers, the goals are to provide a specialized service to the Swannanoa and Black Mountain communities, and to enable the college students to apply their knowledge and to explore the educational field, especially those interested in teaching as a future career.

Recently Owen Middle science students made slime, grew crystals, and made soap. Numerous other science projects are coming up.

The program is designed for each student to have something they created to take home with them at the end of each session. In the first two science sessions, students made slime and extracted strawberry DNA.

Seventh grade student reactions to the science projects range from excitement to curiosity to amazement.

“Wow, this slime glows under the black light,” Stella Phelps said. “I want to make more.”

“This slime looks like Flubber,” Zander Hurt-Thomas said. “Is it going to come alive and bounce everywhere?”

“This is pretty fun for science,” Khristian Clemmons said. “I’m going to come every week.”

Liz Utterback, was amazed at the DNA extraction experiment.

“I got to extract DNA from a strawberry and wind it up on a toothpick,” she said. “I thought DNA was microscopic, but it’s like long polymer strands that keep stretching out.”

During the science programs WWC student volunteers and Owen Middle School science teachers work together to run demonstrations and activities that emphasize science, math and language arts principles to prompt student engagement. Students work in small groups to perform calculations, find ratios of materials and design, write and carry out their own science experiments.

Owen Middle School Assistant Principal Barbara Guffy and WWC assistant professor of chemistry, Dana Emmert are the coordinators of the program. Volunteer mentors from WWC cover an array of curriculum interests from chemistry to history to science. Owen Middle School volunteer mentors are Krasutsky and Robert Aiken, both science teacher.

“Owen Middle School is excited to be working with WWC students in creating a weekly program that enhances science, language arts and math skills for grades 6-8,” she said. “Students have fun opportunities to create slime, grow crystals and make soap.”

“I love the interest that kids have in science and want to foster that as much as we can,” Emmert said.