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Bon Air Goes Green With GECKO

PSNK Environmental Science Preps 3rd-Graders for STEM

Several teams of a half-dozen third-graders sat scattered around the classroom floor. Some snapped together plastic pieces to build a small toy car, while others read the assembly instructions aloud. Soon they would be able to will the cars to move with nothing more than a flashlight. Welcome to Project GECKO – an innovative, hands-on science initiative sponsored by Penn State New Kensington.

GECKO (Green Environmental Challenge for Kids Outreach) was created by students at PSNK to provide hands-on ecology and environmental science activities in schools throughout the Alle-Kiski Valley. On September 29, GECKO coordinator Jana Welch teamed with PSNK sophomore Early Education major Sam Prokobik to introduce Bon Air third-graders to the STEM principles they will encounter next year at Stewart Elementary School. When third grade teacher (and former science instructor) Ann Toy learned of the GECKO program, she thought it would be an ideal way to spark interest in science among the students and teachers at Bon Air, where an emphasis is on literacy.

“Science is going to be taught in the regular classroom, and I want to help excite and encourage the students and teachers,” says Mrs. Toy. “Science is everywhere and relates to all areas of our curriculum. Children need to be aware of environmental topics that carry over into their daily lives. These will impact them for their entire life.”

The GECKO program offers several lessons, including recycling, oil spill cleanup and biodegradable materials. Mrs. Toy chose a lesson on solar power to be presented at Bon Air because it ties into a reading unit the students will complete later this year. “We will be doing several activities when we get to our Reading story,” says Mrs. Toy. “GECKO also provided all third grade teachers with a solar-powered grasshopper, and we each will be getting a solar-powered car kit from them.”

The students assembled similar car kits during the experiment portion of the lesson. The cars were fitted with solar panels. Each team of students was given a flashlight, which they took turns aiming at the car to make it go. They then measured how far the car traveled in 10 seconds. The experiment drove home the importance of pollution-free, renewable energy sources, while encouraging students to collaborate using reading, math, engineering and science.

“Children tend to have a natural interest in science topics, and we can use these interests to encourage reading and math activities. This also helps to build a better base for STEM activities at Stewart,” Mrs. Toy says.

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