Marlborough Elementary School teacher Toni Arner explains the day's activity for the Science Explorers club. Twenty-four students are enrolled in the current session of the club, "Anatomy Adventures," which provides hands-on learning opportunities about different body systems.
"We're going to be doing something really cool today," Marlborough Elementary School teacher Toni Arner told a group of 24 students on a recent Monday after school.
The students were all members of the school's Science Explorers club and the "cool" activity for the after-school program was learning about how the heart works – by dissecting a real lamb's heart.
The heart lesson was a part of the Anatomy Academy, one of five Science Explorer program themes that aim to engage students in science with exciting, hands-on activities. Although some of the kids looked a bit hesitant about the day's activity after the hearts were unveiled, they wasted no time in getting to the "hands-on" part.
The elementary students – from grades one through five, each with a science-based nickname – broke up into teams and made the initial cut through the superior venal artery, and in no time were exploring the inner-workings of a real heart.
"It's awesome! Better than any other project we've done," exclaimed first grader Laser Logan Neifert. First grader Barometer Brandon Bryson agreed, saying the heart project was "surprising," but "the coolest thing I've ever done in my life!"
"Cool, but gross," first grader Atomic Alyssa Chu added.
The day's lesson also included a discussion about the different parts of the heart and how the heart works in the body, but students learned about all sorts of body systems over the course of the five-week program, including skin, the brain, DNA and lungs.
Science Explorers, a private company that provides the hands-on lessons and supplies to schools in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey, got started at Marlborough after a parent approached kindergarten teacher Sara Barnoski about launching the program. Barnoski paired up with fellow teacher and friend Arner, fifth grade, and the first session of Science Explorers was launched.
Both teachers have said the program has exceeded their expectations – especially when they hear the young students using big words like "bioluminescence," as they did during the Magical Mystery Tour program.
For that program, Tornado Toni (Arner), Sunny (Sara) and the Science Explorers made glow-in-the-dark silly putty during one lesson. The kids held their putty up to the light, and when the lights were turned off, the students were wowed by the glowing gobs in their hands. Other activities included making a Matter Monster by combining different polymers, which also had the students "ooh"-ing and "ahh"-ing over their growing creations.
"It's neat hearing kids being so excited about school outside of school," Barnoski said.
"It's so fun," Arner added, "Sometime the kids will take what they make to school the next day" to show off to other kids.
"It gets them excited to learn…[and] gives them an opportunity to explore other career options because they're doing things that they didn't know they could do before," Barnoski said, adding that the program fits perfectly with the Upper Perkiomen School District's goal to create lifelong learners.
"To me science is always interesting…but this is even better because it's all hands-on and inquiry-based. They just ask questions as they're thinking and they're working with it. They get to take it home and tell their parents about it and the more you talk about it, you learn it better," Arner said.
Although Science Explorers will be wrapping up for the year soon, Barnoski and Arner said they are definitely offering the program again next year. Interested parents should be on the lookout for fliers during the next school year; there is a fee for the program.