Danville district to get Mobile Science Lab in fall 2017

Danville district to get Mobile Science Lab in fall 2017

DANVILLE — What's sure to be one of the most appealing classes to Danville schools' younger students won't be found inside of a school building.

Instead, it will take place inside a new high-tech science laboratory on wheels.

The Mobile Science Lab, made possible by the Danville Public School Foundation, will travel to the seven elementary schools on a quarterly basis and South View Upper Elementary on an annual basis to provide the about 3,000 K-6 students with engaging, hands-on lessons, starting in fall 2017.

"The whole purpose is to instill the love of science in our students at an early age and encourage them to pursue these courses in middle school and high school," said Bob Richard, the foundation's executive director, who hopes the lab will help inspire a new generation of scientists.

Earlier this month, the foundation board approved earmarking up to $375,000 for the state-of-the-art, universally-accessible lab.

"That's one of the amazing things about this," Richard said. "There won't be any tax money used for the vehicle or the equipment."

Foundation officials have already started fundraising specifically for the mobile lab project. They're pursuing both nongovernmental grants and private donations.

"We've already received one $14,580 grant from the Wheeler Foundation to purchase the wheelchair lift for the lab," Richard said.

Richard got the idea for the Mobile Science Lab earlier this year. After seeing a news story about Cell Motion Laboratories' BioBus — which has been bringing STEM-focused activities to students in New York City, the majority of whom are from high-poverty areas, since 2008 — he wanted to create a similar experience for local students using a Danville Mass Transit bus.

The DMT had a 1996 bus the foundation could use. However, Richard learned that vehicle would be too costly to retrofit and maintain.

But at a Mobile Science Lab conference in July, he, one of his board members and three district staffers learned about starting a program, incorporating Next Generation Science Standards and engaging diverse learners, and they toured a factory that custom-designs and -builds the mobile labs. After further discussions with the foundation board and district officials, Richard's board gave him the green light to move forward with the project.

Now a committee made up of teachers Kim Thomason and Terri Albers; instructional coach Melissa Cortapassi; curriculum coordinator Mary Ellen Bunton; and Mary Shutt, the foundation's coordinator and a retired curriculum coordinator for the district, are developing a curriculum for the K-4 students, which will launch in August 2017. They will also develop a curriculum for 5-6 students, which could launch the following January if all goes as planned.

Since the mobile lab is designed around the curriculum, Richard said they won't be ready to order it until around November. Then it takes six months to build.

Once it's finished, the 38-foot-long vehicle with two tip-outs, which create an extra 50 inches of width space, will house 24 students. It will have its own HVAC system, be wired for the latest technology and come equipped with laptops, microscopes, probes and other tools.

Richard said some might ask why the money isn't being used to put the same equipment in a few classrooms at each school.

"In three or four years, that equipment will be outdated," he said, pointing out that it will be far less expensive to update the equipment in the lab than in multiple buildings.

He added that the lab will eliminate the need for transporting students to an off-site location, which eats into valuable instructional time.

Under the curriculum, Bunton said students will study a different domain each quarter — the physical sciences, life sciences, earth and space sciences and engineering, technology and the application of science — through rigorous, relevant projects.

"They will be learning how to solve problems," she said, adding students will be challenged to solve a problem that relates directly to Danville.

Bunton called the lab one of the "coolest" things to happen to the district in her career.

"It's such an incredible opportunity for our students," said Bunton, who believes the district will be the first in the state to have one.

"Our teachers do an excellent job of teaching science with the resources we have. Give us a paper cup and a paperclip, and we're MacGyver," she continued with a laugh. "This just gives us a chance to enhance our curriculum ... and expose them to things and provide them with experiences that they may never have until they go to college."

Sections (2):News, Local
Topics (1):Education

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