New science lab at Sevierville Intermediate has teachers, students excited

Feb. 23, 2013 @ 11:57 AM

To see children enthusiastic about learning, interested and excited about discovery, then a visit to the Sevierville Intermediate School science lab — the brand new science lab — would be as good thing to do.

It took a determined administrator, many months of planning and effort, some generous donations and a dedicated faculty to put it together, but the lab is up and running now. It is having an effect.

Noelle Sutton may be the most excited about it. She's a former science teacher who, last year, became assistant principal of the intermediate school. She knew the science teachers were limited in what they could teach and the hands-on tools needed to make science fun and attractive to children in grades 3-5.

She and they wanted a lab. Sutton got a room set aside for it. She talked to faculty members about what they'd like to have in it. She visited a similar lab at a Maryville school. She held fundraisers and asked for donations.

It worked. The lab opened in January and is a popular destination for the school's science teachers and — even better — the students.

"It is fully equipped," Sutton said. That includes microscopes, an ActiveBoard (like a SmartBoard), computers, materials and walls covered in science-related posters. It is believed to be the first science lab below the high school level in the county schools.

The lab also has a full-sized skeleton. Sutton held a contest among all classes to name the skeleton. The students in Lindsey Smyre's fourth-grade class won out with Indiana Bones. The skeleton has a sign on it to recognize the class that named it.

Inside the lab on a day this week, teacher Jerry Cox had his class of fourth-graders divided into three groups: One was looking at slides in the microscopes, one group was examining rocks and the third group was conducting electricity. Teachers sign up for 30-minute lab slots, but they can book consecutive slots to make an hour in the lab.

Before the lab opened, Cox would have to pull materials out of his classroom closet to do limited experiments or show the students items. Then he'd have to drag it back into the closet so other subjects could be aught.

"There is a lot more enthusiasm when I tell the students they're going to the lab," he said. "Their eyes light up."

Cox has taught at the school for eight years and he's never had it so good.

"This is the best it's ever been," he said.

Grant Berrier and Lila Blalock would agree. The fourth-graders have become turned on to science, thanks to the lab.

"It's a more hands-on experience," Grant said. "It's more fun and you learn better. It's not as good when you sit in the classroom and listen.

"Here we can use a microscope and learn more about the subject. I love coming to the lab," Lila said.

Is it finished? No, and it may never be. But there is a wish list, and at the top is perhaps the costliest item of all: tablets hooked to a wireless network. Sutton got an estimate to make the lab wireless, and it was around $2,500. She's not sure why it would be so expensive compared to making your home wireless.

Tablets like iPads would allow each lab student to be connected to the Internet, where they could do virtual dissections and more. She has priced tablets at $400. To buy enough for the lab, coupled with making it wireless, would be around $10,000.

She remains hopeful. When The Mountain Press did a story about her project last fall, a man she'd never met walked into her office and wrote out a check for $1,000. She got a donation on Friday for another $1,000, with which she planned to buy additional microscopes.

In the meantime, the lab is getting students enthused about science. Both Grant and Lila said they could see themselves going into a science-related field one day.

Cox may have in his class these days a future researcher who'll find a cure for cancer or a way to explore a distant planet.

"Who knows if this science lab at Sevierville Intermediate might have been the key to someone pursuing a career in science," he said.

Or even a high school student who still enjoys the thrill of discovery. Twitter @stanvoit.