Science Class Gives Life Lessons

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The search for berries one recent Friday afternoon during Eileen Lawson's fourth grade science nature walk was akin to Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

The first was too small, the second not ripe, and the third just right. Lawson's students enthusiastically searched out the manzanita berries, and eagerly described their taste.

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Abby Hazelo, far left, Eve Armstrong, front, Jake Beeler, back, and Kylie Chapin stand next to Eileen Lawson as she tells the fourth-graders about the datura plant. To Lawson's right stands Angel Jacquez.

"They taste like peanut butter - and sugar," said one student.

Lawson, who has a bachelor's in zoology, is also Frontier Elementary School's librarian. Twice a week, Lawson teaches science to Pam Jones' third-graders, and twice a week, Lawson teaches science to Jones' fourth-graders. While Lawson teaches science, Jones teaches math.

Jones' class, which the Roundup previously featured, combines the third and fourth grades for a special, clustered class which combines groups of gifted students, average students, and challenged students. The class is open-ended, and allows students to integrate their own interests into lessons so everybody is appropriately engaged.

Lawson's science class is integrative and based on real life. The kids' excitement incites learning, she said. "They catch that excitement and it pulls them up."

For the nature trail lesson, kids learned plants' names, their historical purposes, modern purposes, and level of toxicity.

Friday, the fourth-graders gathered around the white and beautiful but very poisonous datura flowers near the school but off the nature trail.

Daring fourth-graders poked the flower with sticks, but heeded Lawson's warnings. "This is very poisonous. Every part of this plant is poisonous. Don't touch," she told them.

One student asked how the critter that was feeding off the poisonous plant could stay alive.

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Fourth-grader Mikayla Armstrong holds a manzanita berry she found while on the nature trail in Eileen Lawson's science class.

"That is an adaptation," Lawson said. "Just because you see an animal eat it does not mean it's good for us to eat."

Frontier Elementary's wild backyard that waits beyond the school's requisite groomed grass features a good range of Arizona's flora. Banana yucca, lichen on rocks, and alligator juniper grow, the three-dimensional lesson seemingly more riveting than a textbook could ever be.

The banana yucca, which is essentially the same shape as aloe but without aloe's juicy inside, has leaves that can be used to make sandals. Its roots can be pounded into a shampoo, and its fruit can be eaten.

Green lichen grows on the rocks.

"This is a plant; it's a cool plant," said Mikayla Armstrong.

"If you step on it, it will die," said another student.

"It tells you that the air is clean," said Eve Armstrong.

"If the air is dirty, then we know the lichen will die," said Lawson.

And part of the fun, the fourth-graders said, was the knowledge that if they found themselves stranded in the woods, they would know what to eat. Lawson said the students went home and taught their parents, too.

"If you get lost, you can know what to eat and where's north and south," said Mikayla Armstrong. "Plus, we get to go places nobody else in the school does."

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