Students at Pasco's first STEM elementary learn about geology, computer science and more

PASCO -- Four days after the Pasco School District's new elementary school focused on science and technology opened, students got their hands dirty Friday as they learned about glaciers with pans of dirt on the sidewalk.

"OK scientists, let's get those journals out," said fourth-grade teacher Cathy Barrett as students set blocks of ice in the dirt and started to record their observations.

Inside, kindergarten and first-grade students were in a computer lab, taking first steps to learn computer programming.

In another classroom, guest lecturer Dale Ingram from the LIGO observatory at Hanford was demonstrating principles of pressure, vacuums and movement to an enthralled group of first-graders.

They watched as he heated a soda can with a torch until the liquid in it boiled and then dropped it into a dish of cold water to be quickly crushed.

"I knew it," said one boy, when Ingram held up the crumpled can.

Students were being scientists, Ingram told them. Just like scientists, they were making observations and then coming up with ideas to try to explain what happened, he said.

The Rosalind Franklin Elementary School in Pasco is one of only a few science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, focused elementary schools in the state, and the first of three STEM grade schools planned in Pasco.

Principal Deidre Holmberg left the Tri-Cities STEM-focused Delta High School to spend a year planning for this week's opening of the Rosalind Franklin school.

After establishing a classroom routine for the kindergarten through fifth-grade classes in the first three days of the new school year, it was time Friday to let students dive into hands-on activities.

"Anytime you look at kids with a hands-on, minds-on activity, they are engaged," Holmberg said. "It's about them developing a questioning attitude about what they see in the world."

She wants to push the envelope on what young students can do.

The new elementary has more than 800 students in 32 classrooms, with most of them from the local neighborhoods near Road 52 and Powerline Road. It also includes 150 students who applied to attend the STEM school and were picked by a lottery.

Barrett, who was wearing a lab coat Friday, volunteered to teach at Rosalind Franklin after spending the past nine years teaching science and math to bilingual students in the Pasco School District.

Her fourth-grade students returned to the sidewalk in front of the new school throughout the day to collect data and make observations on their "glaciers" and see how they melted and changed the landscape in the dirt. Some drew and labeled diagrams and others would took photographs with the school's iPads.

The lessons to be learned in the first science project of the year included the importance of accuracy and detail as students practiced scientific observation, she said.

"The real test will be how does the year go," Holmberg said. "We plan to collect all kinds of data, qualitative and quantitative, to see if we get it right."

Next year, Pasco plans to open another STEM-focused elementary school and a STEM early learning center for kindergarten students.