Fifth graders take over Talcott Mountain

By Lisa Capobianco
Staff Writer
From weather patterns, to cell mutation to great white sharks, fifth graders identified as gifted and talented in the Southington school district have currently worked on a variety of projects in partnership with Talcott Mountain Science Center.
Established toward the end of last year with the help of a $15,000 grant, the partnership serves as an enrichment program for a total of 29 students from the district. Every week students devote time in class and at home to work on an individualized project, connecting virtually with a scientist from Talcott Mountain for guidance.
“These kids are going to be your future innovators,” said Erin Nattrass, a teacher at Kelley School who serves as one of the district facilitators for the Talcott enrichment program. “We are developing the whole student.”
The enrichment program kicked off in October with a district-wide training for students and district facilitators, followed by a virtual online meet-and-greet with scientists. During the training, students learned how to use Canvas, a software program that allows them to communicate directly with scientists and also with each other. Through Canvas, students can log-in from both school and home to send instant messages back and forth. Building facilitators, who monitor the students when working on their projects, also received training for the program.
“Smaller schools like Flanders and South End where they only have two participants are able to communicate with students from Kelley School and Derynoski where there is a larger population of students which is great,” said Nattrass during a presentation at a recent Board of Education meeting.
About six scientists are involved in the enrichment program, guiding the students with their topics and answering questions throughout the experiments. Students submit a “blueprint,” which resembles a proposal for a science fair project, said Nattrass. Currently, one student has pursued a project that involves constructing robotics that can navigate around a house. Other students have worked on cell mutation and its effect on cancer, controlling the growth of algae and using various sources to create usable energy.
“It is really mind-blowing with what these kids are coming up with,” said Jonathon Cop, a special education teacher at Thalberg Elementary School, who also serves as a district facilitator with Nattrass.
Cop added that the students involved in the program have maintained a good balance between their projects and schoolwork. Although they allocate 30 minutes of “free time” into their schedules to work on their projects, students still have enough time to complete their assignments.
“This is not in place of their classroom core curriculum,” Cop said. “This is enrichment—it is an addition to their classroom instruction.”
Looking ahead, Cop said upon finishing their projects, students will share what they discovered during a “Recognition Evening” at Talcott Mountain Science Center later in the school year. After students present their projects, Cop and Nattrass will have a discussion with Talcott Mountain to determine how to tweak or change the program with the hope of rolling it out again.
“When we hear them talk about it, our heads are just spinning in awe every day, and the kids absolutely love it,” Nattrass reported to the Board of Education at a recent meeting.

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