Silver Valley Upward Bound
Written by Donna Emert
Dissect the lowly lava lamp and take a close look at its functions, and pretty soon you’re talking about circuitry, electricity, buoyancy, force and other physics, chemistry and engineering concepts essential to understanding the way the world works.
Fifteen students with the Silver Valley Upward Bound program analyzed lava lamps and the science, technology, engineering and math they embody, and built their own in University of Idaho’s North Idaho Science Laboratory in Coeur d’Alene this summer. The project is one of many the students tackled as part of the UB program, which offers potential first-generation college students and/or low income students a taste of college life.
“It’s not a summer camp,” said Marcee Hartzell, director of Silver Valley UB. “To expose kids to what college is like we offer three classes a day, each run like a college course, with a syllabus and the expectation that students will work at the pace required to accomplish the tasks they’re assigned.”
“This is not a credit retrieval program.” Hartzell emphasizes. “The majority of participating students carry a 3.0 grade point average. This is an introduction to the real life college experience, and I have real life expectations for them. The students who sign up truly want to be here.”
The program began at University of Idaho in Moscow, where students explored campus grounds and facilities, and bunked in dorms. They also toured North Idaho College in Coeur d’Alene, Washington State University in Pullman and Lewis-Clark State College campus in Lewiston. They took classes in University of Idaho classrooms on the NIC campus, and in the University’s Harbor Center classrooms and science lab. NIC dorms were full this summer, so the students stayed at the Ross Point Camp and Conference Center in Post Falls.
The project oriented summer program is hands-on and inquiry based; students learn by doing. Their lava lamp construction project brought together elements of engineering, chemistry and physics. The course was taught by Lisa Mahony, a physical science instructor at Post Falls High School.
“We discussed both the chemistry concepts of the lava and the electrical circuits that power lamp,” said Mahony. “We talked about atomic structure, including polar and non-polar molecules, electricity and circuits, buoyancy and density, and worked on forces, acceleration and velocity, too. The students looked at what force is, first with a tug of war, then with free body diagrams. Then when we went into electricity, students were able to identify voltage as the force that pushes electrons to move.”
Each scientific concept the students studied incorporated a hands-on challenge, leading to the final challenge of designing and building the lava lamp. As they studied and experimented, students also honed important life skills, Mahony suggests.
“One of the things they learn in the process is to become more confident in science, and more confident about their problem solving skills,” she said. “We do a lot of collaboration, and they’re really good at working individually and together. We hope to strengthen both their individual problem solving skills and their team skills.”
Another facet of the program was a math class disguised as a stock market challenge, taught by Jason Putz. In that class, students were required to create a financial plan and strategically invest $100,000. “The money isn’t real, but the experience feels real,” said Hartzell. Students must choose investments that give the biggest bang for their buck, and map out their financial futures accordingly. During the school year, Putz teaches math/science/technology at Greenacres Middle School in Spokane.
UB students also were issued Canon cameras, and asked to explore the history, science and technical aspects of photography. In that class, each chose a career specialty, like wildlife photography or portrait photography. All class assignment were based on making that career a successful one. To incorporate an analytical and writing component, students also penned their reflections about the shots they take. The course was taught by professional photographer and businessman David Pafford of Steel Bridge Photography in Hayden.
The students visited NIC classrooms three days a week for immersion in Latin American culture, including some exposure to the country’s core business, tourism. That class incorporated a little language accusation and a lot of hands and lips-on-experience of Latin American cuisine. Students learned how to cook Latin dishes under the expert tutelage of Vance Agte, a teacher working in Post Falls and Coeur d’Alene. Agte holds a degree in International Studies in Spanish and has traveled through Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Spain and Panama.
Woven into their busy summer was a partnership with Human Rights Education Institute in Coeur d’Alene. Early in the program, on June 19, UB students gathered in the HREI parking lot to help ring in “Juneteenth” a celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. They helped construct and install an HREI exhibit commemorating the event. They also helped with Coeur d’Alene Ironman events and built a reading garden in July at Prairie View Elementary School in Post Falls. The pace of their educational experience was a little bit brutal, much like real life.
Michael Davis, a junior at Wallace High School was a student in the program this summer. He has an aptitude for science and hopes to have a career in art.
“It’s really a good experience,” said Davis. “It lets you know what you’re getting into. It helps you get into life, and it helps you get into college. There’s a lot of teamwork, and a lot of us are willing to help out the other person.”
Silver Valley UB currently serves 50 students in the Wallace/Kellogg school district. For more information on Silver Valley and other University of Idaho UB partnerships, programs and projects, visit www.uidaho.edu/upwardbound/svub.