Gearing students up for a roller coaster in school

Jul 14, 2013 by

The assignment for the 40 students at a West Side community center Saturday: use paper, popsicle sticks, glue and marbles to create a miniature roller coaster — hours after learning, using math and science, how a roller coaster works.

One group of four teenage boys let creativity literally flow and was encouraged to push their own ideas. The results: a rapid waterslide named the “James Westside Blackjack Casino Jesus Christ Free.”

“We were inspired by Schlitterbahn,” Jay York, 14, a Burbank High freshman and one of the slide’s engineers, said referring to the beloved Texas water park.

The four boys giggled as they tried to explain the name, created by randomly clipping words from a newspaper and pasting them in that order on the waterslide’s base. They shifted to a more serious tone in explaining and demonstrating how their contraption successfully worked.

York dropped a marble into the top of the slide, which wound down a paper chute woven between the wooden popsicle sticks, and ended up in a water-filled food concession tray, traditionally used for nachos.

Seeing the students get excited about learning math and science was a major goal of the effort Saturday — part of a program called GEAR UP, or Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs.

It’s a federally funded program that aims to prepare a designated cohort of students, chiefly those economically disadvantaged, for college and tracks them all the way through their freshman year in college.

In San Antonio, two school districts — San Antonio and Harlandale — offer the program to about 5,000 students, and in partnership with several groups, such as the University of Texas of San Antonio, which provided educators to teach the concept.

The grant that SAISD won is for a group of students scheduled to graduate from high school in 2017, said Roxanne Rosales, who oversees GEAR UP for the district.

Rosales said the importance of Saturday’s exercise was two-fold: get kids interested in one of the hottest trends in education — STEM, or science, technology, engineering and mathematics — as employers look for higher-skilled workers in those fields. The other goal: reduce what’s known as the “summer slide,” the term used to describe how students can regress during summer if not actively learning.

“It’s a good time to get students exposed to more fun, hands-on ways of learning that sometimes isn’t as easy to do during the hectic school year,” Rosales said.

Students get to learn about all kinds of topics, taking field trips to businesses and college campuses, and learning about careers in fields ranging from the culinary arts to medicine.

Dennis Gonzalez, a GEAR UP project director at UTSA, said they spread out the activities in different areas in the school districts so that all students can more regularly attend their sessions, especially in summer. He said those wondering how the program works can contact his office at 210-458-2674 or by emailing to see if their students in SAISD or Harlandale qualify.

In one example, about 120 students signed up for the roller-coaster exercise — a daylong activity held in three different parts of town this month. It was eye-opening for students like Saul Ibarra, 14, an incoming freshman at Edison High.

“It just makes you think about how things work,” Ibarra said. “It’s not simple.”

Gearing students up for a roller coaster in school – San Antonio Express-News.

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