Topeka USD 501 hosts Kanza Science Days fourth-grade field trip

The most shocking thing, to Icarus Franklin, in standing in front of scores of Topeka USD 501 fourth-graders is that they actually were interested in what they had to say.

With a whole electric substation immediately behind, Franklin walked the kids through everything it takes to safely work with thousands of volts in power — including bump hats for head protection and natural-fiber clothes to minimize the risk of flammability.

So naturally, the kids had loads of questions.

“It’s just a great opportunity for even us to be learning more about our subject,” said Franklin, a sophomore at Topeka High. “We do get answer sheets, but we won’t always know what kids will ask, and it’s a great experience to get as a future teacher.”

Franklin has been one of several Topeka Center for Advanced Learning and Careers students helping with the district’s Science Days at Kanza Education and Science Park.

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The annual field trip, partnership with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the Kansas Energy. brings each Topeka USD 501 fourth- and seventh-grader to the district’s education campus — a district property of more than 30 acres just north of Hummer Sports Park — for lessons on science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM), with a particular focus on energy.

“It takes months to put together, but the end result is that kids are out here learning, and they’re getting hands-on experiences and enrichment opportunities,” said Lindsey Noonan, a Jardine STEAM teacher and consulting teacher for the district. “Especially in fourth grade, one of the big topics they learn about energy, so being able to bring them out here for a full day of hands-on experiences that they can’t necessarily experience in the classroom is especially important.”

Now in its eighth year, the annual field trip has expanded and now includes help from volunteers like the district’s student teachers and students in the Teaching as a Profession pathway at TCALC. About 1,000 fourth-graders, split over eight days of trips, will cycle through the educators’ stations.

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At one station, students learn about wind energy with mock models of a wind turbine in the shadow of a real one on the campus. Elsewhere, students build marble roller coasters as they explore potential and kinetic energy. At another station, led by representatives from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, students tour through the agency’s mobile laboratory.

“I’ve learned about classroom management, and how to really work with the kids,” said Julia Johnston, a student teacher. “It also lets them practice what they’ve learned in class, if they’ve gotten to those subjects in their schools, or it lets us at least introduce it for their teachers to follow up on later.”

Kerri Cushing, a special education teacher at Meadows Elementary, said the experience is about learning as much as it is about creating memories for students, which allows them to more easily remember the scientific principles behind the fun activities.

Additionally, it helps students learn more about the various career opportunities that might exist for them after high school.

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“It’s a real-life connection,” she said. “They can’t experience these things from a book. It helps them learn so much better.”

For Franklin, the experience of volunteering has also helped with the confidence it will take to become a full-fledged teacher in a few short years.

“It’s a lot more fun to be a teacher than you might think,” Franklin said.

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