Lakewood third-graders are ready to experiment

Science labs: They’re not just for the big kids anymore.

Third-graders at Lakewood Elementary School will soon be examining bacteria with microscopes, checking out bugs under magnifying glasses, and heating liquids with hotplates.

“But no Bunsen burners,” says Monty Watson, president of the Friends of Lakewood dads’ club. “We don’t want third-grade boys blowing up the school.”

For years, the dads have been funding special school projects, such as the outdoor learning area and renovations for the auditorium. This year they chose a science lab because Lakewood is putting more emphasis on the subject, even rearranging class schedules so that one woman, Cynthia Bell, will be teaching science to every third-grader in the school.

In the past it was only the upper grades that had equipment for science experiments, says Bell, a 29-year veteran Lakewood teacher.

“We’ve always done our own class and taught our own science … We’ve never really outfitted a lower grade lab with this,” Bell says. “But in third grade, that’s when they start thinking scientifically.”

Teaching third-graders about science through books or by wheeling a cart around a classroom with some sort of scientific experiment on display (a common former method) isn’t nearly as effective as allowing them to test their hypotheses in a hands-on manner, Bell says. Figuring things out for themselves will also help students retain the information better, she says — only two years separates them from the fifth-grade TAKS science exam.

A recent third-grade experiment tested whether or not a mass of bubble gum would increase once it’s chewed. The third-graders assumed it would because of all the saliva mixed in, Bell says, but they discovered otherwise while weighing the chewed gum.

“I love to see the little light bulbs come on in their minds when they ask questions and find out whether their theories were correct,” Bell says. “It’s also enlightening for our kids to realize that you don’t always have to be perfect or right.”

Right now the children usually work in groups of five or six because of limited equipment, but once the Friends of Lakewood supplies come in, they will have one scale, for example, for every one or two kids.

“Because everybody wants to spit their gum out and weigh it — that’s part of the fun of it,” Bell laughs.

Watson describes Bell as a teacher who is “big on making the learning process fun,” right down to the new science tables and chairs, which are purple.

“She is a very enthusiastic woman, and the kids feed off of that,” he says.

And, Watson says, the dads are just as “fired up because we can all see the tangible benefits of a science lab.” The Lakewood father who most publicly expressed his enthusiasm for the lab is Julian Costanzo, who won a recent speed taco-eating contest at Desperado’s anniversary celebration, beating out contenders such as former Dallas Cowboy Tony Hill.

“In the military I learned to eat very fast, so I figured I’d put that skill to use for science. However, I was not completely certain that Tony Hill was going to go down without a fight,” jokes Costanzo. “I drank half a bottle of Pepto when I got home … but if contributing $500 by eating tacos is my legacy to the lab, then I had to give it my best.”

The club is trying to raise at least $15,000 to buy the science equipment, which students have already begun to use. Most of the money comes from checks written by the fathers, but some of it stems from corporate matches and other donations. The more money that rolls in, Watson says, the more the dads will be able to enhance the lab.


To donate to Lakewood Elementary’s new third-grade science lab, write a check to “Friends of Lakewood” and mail it to:

Friends of Lakewood
c/o Lakewood Elementary School
3000 Hillbrook Street
Dallas 75214

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