URBANA — Sixty-four kindergartners through fifth-graders are learning in summer school this year at King Elementary in Urbana, but they also seemed to be having plenty of fun while doing so Monday afternoon.
In Lorena Griffin's science class, they learned about Newton's second law of motion by slinging small wheeled carts down various surfaces around the school.
In Lekisha Hall's reading class, they giggled and discussed the various plot points of "The Chocolate Touch," a chapter book by Patrick Skene Catling.
In Alain Nott's class, they learned about math using astronauts.
Rhonda Michelle Turner, who is the summer school coordinator and a King teacher during the school year, said there's a special focus on hands-on learning this summer.
For the first time this summer, King and Prairie schools in Urbana have 21st Century Community Learning Center grants for summer school, Turner said.
Along with intensive math, science and reading instruction, King's summer school also includes technology education, arts and crafts, recreational activities and field trips, as well as working with several community partners.
Both King and Prairie have after-school programs funded by the grants. The grants are distributed by the state but come from the U.S. Department of Education.
The grants allow for hands-on instruction in reading, math and science, as well as buying materials for those lessons. The materials are expensive, Turner said, so the teachers don't have the luxury of using them during the regular school year.
Summer school students have also visited the Urbana Park District's indoor aquatic center and Skateland. Next week, they'll go to the Miller Park Zoo in Bloomington.
"These are opportunities they wouldn't normally get," Turner said.
The summer school has also partnered with the University of Illinois Extension, the Prairie Center and the Urbana Park District.
The three weeks of summer school also help close that summer gap when students might not be learning, said Nott, who is moonlighting as a math teacher for summer school. During the school year, she teaches third grade.
Nott said she has had to learn about what a kindergartner might be capable of in math class and is teaching students using games and hands-on activities. The goal is to help students figure out ways to visualize what they're learning.
For example, Nott taught students by giving them each a piece of paper called a number line and a small plastic astronaut figure. On her white board, Nott drew an arrow pointing right and a plus sign. She also drew an arrow pointing left, with a subtraction symbol.
The students took turns choosing the number their astronauts would start on, then adding or subtracting certain numbers by walking their astronauts up or down the number line.
Nott used the arrows on the board to remind the students which direction the astronauts should move.
The goal is to help the students learn what the addition and subtraction symbols mean, she said.
"They need to see it so that later on, that symbol means something," Nott said.
In her science class, Griffin had students list various spaces around the school where they could explore Newton's second law using the small wheeled cart and a box designed to launch it.
Then, she had them discuss what kinds of surfaces they would find in each space and the differences among them.
They talked about how a tile floor is slippery, compared with the carpet in Griffin's classroom.
"It's bumpy, so (the cart) won't go as fast," explained third-grader Jaylin Ward.
Griffin said the goal for her lessons in summer school is to get students thinking about forces in their everyday environments, things "you don't think about, but are clearly present."
While the after-school program is more focused on enrichment, the summer school program has other goals.
Turner said the summer school's goal is to keep students learning, both in the classroom and outside it.
"It's keeping them up on their academics and experiencing different things in the community," she said.