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Press: 8th-graders slither into science


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Posted by Wes von Papinešu on March 27, 2001 at 16:33:00:

DENVER POST (Colorado) 23 March 01 8th-graders slither into science (Susan Besze Wallace)
Aurora: Thirty eighth-graders are conspiring to leave their school's snake cages open next month.
What sounds like a prank is actually a radio telemetry tracking project, dreamed up and designed by students, that has earned Pam Schmidt's fifth-period class $7,500 with which to run the project.
"What they're learning about snakes is nothing compared to what they are learning about science," Schmidt said. Or technical writing. Or research. Or serendipity. Or even each other.
It started with a comment from their principal at Thunder Ridge Middle School about a mouse problem. The eighth-graders overheard, and talked about using the classroom's snakes to catch them. Then they wondered about tracking the snakes, then helping others learn to track their own escaped snakes. The serendipity came two days after students teamed to asked Schmidt about the possibilities.
The Colorado Masonic Lodge called Schmidt, Colorado's 1997 Teacher of the Year, saying a $7,500 grant had become available because the latest teacher of the year couldn't use it. "Got a project?" Vern Ingraham asked. The Masons' Quality in Education grant program had started after Schmidt's year of honor.
After weeks of writing and rewriting - and having more regular science homework as the students' put a proposal together - the snakes get slithering next month. "We're going to put a transmitter between their testicles," Ryan Wilson, 14, explained at a ceremony Thursday as a bullsnake named Damien wrapped the boy's arms together. "Their heartbeats will tell us where they are, through a transmitter and an antenna. ... We're going to try all sorts of things to learn their patterns. It's heartbreaking when snake owners lose them. So we'll hopefully help."
Actually, veterinarians Kevin Fitzgerald and Robert Taylor will do the implanting. The rest is teen-driven.
"I've been terrified of snakes until now," Ashtyn Dickmeier, 14, said as a small one curled through her fingers. "But it's so out of the ordinary, this project, we had to jump on it.
"Doing the grant application already helped me. Every question on the science CSAP made me think back to how we designed the snake project."
From creating a budget for buying equipment to creating a Web site for results, students will work in small teams - and into the summer. They will also make several public presentations - Mason members don't know snakes are coming to dinner in May. Schmidt remembers the speaking cir cuit from 1997.
"It changed my life forever and opened doors that were not available to us. The kids are the ones charging through those doors," Schmidt said, her snake earrings bouncing with excitement. She teaches four-week enrichment courses called "Slithers," the ripple effect of college instructors who fostered her own snake fascination.
Nate Morris, 14, calls Schmidt "the coolest teacher I'll ever have."



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