Unique learning experience

Published 11:05 am Monday, March 22, 2004

By Staff
When I went to Brewton Middle School on Thursday to take a picture of the Star Lab, I didn't know what I was getting into.
Luckily for me, I got to the school in the middle of the hour and a class was actually inside the Star Lab.
A grown woman in a business suit, I took off my shoes and crawled into the pitch black opening of what looked like a big inflated igloo.
Crouched inside, at first I could see nothing. Once my eyes adjusted and I was sure I wouldn't knock over an unsuspecting eighth-grader, I caught on to what was going on inside the lab.
It was like a portable planetarium, totally dark except for faint images projected on the dome.
Carrie Brown's science class sat around the perimeter, calling out, "Interphase! Prophase! Metaphase! Anaphase!" and above us the illuminated outline of a cell was going through mitosis.
Moving next to an astronomy lesson, the dome was filled with outlined constellations and Brown led us through identification of the Zodiac and other formations.
Quickly, she told us about the mythology of the star signs and their arrangement along the path of the sun -- the bull, the twins, the crab, the lion.
I was mystified. Of course I had learned about these star formations before, but I'd never been given an up-close tour of the sky and the relationship between its components.
The next projection simulated a real night sky -- a full field of stars with nothing to distinguish the different constellations.
Brown talked about how much more difficult it was to identify each star this way, but right away I saw the "W" of Cassiopeia. I had only just learned how to recognize it from the last group of projections.
Together we all watched the scene on the dome change until, again, Brown could pick out a structure and then guide us back across the sky, stepping from one group of stars to the next.
I felt just like a student -- eager to see each formation, amused by how disorienting it was to be in this dark space and staring at moving lights overhead.
I could really understand the value of opportunities to learn in non-traditional ways, and I was excited to know that students here get those chances.
Presented on a flat page in a classroom, I think subject matter like this, while interesting, would never have made students gasp and "aaah" like they did as projected lights shifted across the dome of the Star Lab.
I think the lessons were not brand new to the students, but experiencing them in a new and unusual environment got their attention and made them interested.
At the end of the class, I was disappointed to crawl back out into the regular old unmagical gym and complete my grown up responsibility of taking a photo for the newspaper.
I had enjoyed being a Brewton Middle School student for a half-hour.
Anna M. Lee is assistant editor of The Brewton Standard. She can be reached by email at anna.lee@brewtonstandard.com

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