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Flora, fauna and FCAT

There is a lot to look at in Kristen Milford's Inverness Primary School classroom. She has guinea pigs, two of them _ and one, she suspects, is expecting. There is a hamster. It isn't obvious at first. It likes to roll up in an old sock.

There is a glass aquarium full of plants, covered with plastic, illustrating transpiration. A much larger terrarium holds compost and dirt. It will soon be home for worms. There is a tank standing ready for fish. And there are beakers, graduated cylinders, pipettes and safety goggles.

Milford is the special area teacher in the school's new math/science lab, which all students visit on a rotating basis.

Inverness Primary was able to add the lab, explained principal Marlise Bushman, because of the number of students. During the end of the past school year, the planning committee met to determine what that specials area should be. Specials are classes such as music, art and technology where students meet with specialized teachers outside of their regular classrooms.

The planning team consists of teachers from each grade level. "They were concerned about the new county math series," Bushman said, which puts more emphasis on helping children understand the concepts behind math, such as why three plus four equals seven, not just that it does.

Another concern was the science portion of the FCAT, which has not been counted toward a school's grade, but will be. A math/science lab seemed the way to go.

Students need more real-world experience with math, Bushman said. "It's an exploratory, hands-on program."

The creation of the lab was good news for Milford. She had been a teacher at Inverness Primary for three years, three years ago. She left to teach high school at the Academy of Environmental Science, an age group she had wanted to try. She said she loved her time at the academy, but seems delighted to be in the math/science lab with the younger students.

The projects in her lab range from an observation of water's surface tension to scientific inquiry. Prekindergarten and kindergarten students have been learning how to identify living and nonliving things. First-graders have been studying plants, learning about trees, examining tree "cookies" (cross-sections), and mea

suring the circumferences of their adopted trees out by the playground.

Second-grade students have also talked about plants, including transpiration. Third-graders have focused on human anatomy. The children did a water replacement demonstration to illustrate lung capacity and they made lung models with working diaphragms.

Milford is working with the older students on the scientific method, pH scale, the elements and the periodic table, solutions, super saturations and crystal formation. The students are learning to form hypotheses, collect data and write formal lab reports.

The math is paired with the science through charting, estimating, measuring, graphing and the introduction of international units. "I've always found it real natural to do them both together," Milford said.

She is also very excited about a focus on nutrition. There is a school committee, including physical education teachers, that is interested in teaching students to have better eating habits. "I am really into seeing some changes," Milford said.

There has been a lot of parents and staff support for the lab, Bushman said. Milford and the teachers have been trying to compile and centralize the school's science equipment. Parents received a wish list and have been donating generously.

So in her well-equipped lab, Milford first impressed upon the children the importance of safety. After that it's just one interesting thing after another, not the least of which will be guinea pig babies.