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Older students share lessons on universe

By John Published: May 23, 2011
National Inventors Hall of Fame School fifth graders Camirage Hill, 11 (left) Madison Anderson, 10, Chelsea Olenik, 11, Nick Sallady, 11, and Zach Stone, 10, teach a group of Kindergarteners from Voris Elementary School about the rotation of the Earth during Space Day at the school. (Karen Schiely/Akron Beacon Journal)

By John Higgins
Beacon Journal staff writer

A split Oreo cookie looks like a full moon against a black cookie sky.

Scrape away half of the cream filling and the moon looks half full. Scrape it all away and it's a new moon.

That's how fifth-graders at Akron's National Inventors Hall of Fame School taught kindergartners Friday morning about the phases of the moon.

''Do you like Oreos, Cody?'' asked Tommy Searle. ''If you're good at the end, you'll get to eat the cookies. Does that sound good?''

He had 6-year-old Cody Walkley's full attention.

But before they got to the cookies, Tommy wanted to know what Cody already knew about the moon. Had he seen the moon before?

''Were you at your house looking out your window?'' Tommy asked.

''I've been looking at it a long time,'' said Cody, who attends Voris elementary.

''Today we're going to teach you how it changes,'' Tommy said.

He and six classmates were in charge of the moon phases station at the middle school's first Space Day for kindergarten classes from Voris and Findley elementary schools.

Other fifth-graders created stations about the sun, day and night, constellations, stars and the seasons. Their own teachers gave them the problem to solve two weeks ago.

The district's science learning specialist Katrina Halasa told the fifth-graders that kindergarten students this year in Ohio have to learn facts about space that previously had been taught in second grade.

The fifth-grade science standardsalso include more in-depth learning about space, so this was a chance to improve their own understanding by explaining the concepts in ways a 5-year-old could appreciate.

''What they've done in two weeks is amazing,'' said fifth-grade math and science teacher Jill Holcomb.

They had to do it all on their own, starting with visiting the Ohio Department of Education to find out what exactly the kindergarten science standards were.

''They had to develop a lesson that encompassed a couple of different things,'' Holcomb said. ''You couldn't do just one thing, sit there and lecture the kids.''

One group teaching about constellations set up a classmate's family camping tent and projected constellations on the inside walls while kindergartners drew the Big Dipper with chalk on black paper.

A few groups incorporated songs and movements. The moon phases station came up with the Oreo idea on its own, too.

Kids moved from station to station every eight minutes. One group was assigned to handle the logistics, including inviting the kindergarten teachers from Voris and Findley to their Space Day.

''They sent everything to the teachers, a welcome letter, name tags out to them,'' Holcomb said. ''They were like: Please have them sit with their groups by color on the bus.''

At the Oreo moon station, they asked the kids questions before they gathered up their cookies and moved to the next station.

''At the end, we try not to give them answers,'' said fifth-grader Summer Spragling. ''We ask what type of moon can you not see at night time? What type of moon is a whole white circle?''

Their lessons reflected the style of teaching at the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) middle school, which emphasizes motivating students to find their own answers to challenging problems rather than passively receiving information in a lecture.

The exercise also demonstrated that children can teach others, which some researchers have taken as evidence that teaching is a natural ability in humans.

Children are able to teach each other by demonstration at age 3 and by explanation at age 5, according to a 2010 paper for the National Science Foundation by Sidney Strauss, professor (emeritus) of education at Tel Aviv University.

Strauss and his colleagues observed children between about 3 and 5 teaching each other the rules of a board game. While the children would cheat once they started playing the game, they never cheated while teaching the game, according to a chapter Strauss wrote in a 2005 book, Developmental Psychology and Social Change.

Although brain science has made great strides in understanding what happens to the brain when we learn, less is known about ''the teaching brain,'' according to Argentine neuroscientist Antonio Battro.

''In a sense, the first human was a teacher,'' Battro wrote last year in an article for Mind, Brain and Education, a peer-reviewed journal that focuses on the convergence of biology, psychology and education research to explore questions relevant to the classroom.

''And most important and not always recognized is that children teach! Without the natural teaching capacity shown by children of all conditions and cultures, the survival of our human species would be in trouble.''

The fifth-grade teachers at the National Inventors Hall of Fame School had more modest goals than the survival of the species: Learn the lesson well enough themselves to make it interesting to their kindergarten students.

''Like we shared with the kids, the teacher always has to know a little bit more than the students,'' Holcomb said. ''They really needed to research and understand constellations before they could modify it and break it down to their level.''

John Higgins can be reached at 330-996-3792 or Read the education blog at



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