Students at City Park School and Park Creek School deepened their understanding of everything from magnets and masks of the world to rocks and geology thanks to a series of campus visits from Chattanooga's Creative Discovery Museum.

"All of our lessons, we want to be fun, hands-on, and (provide) a sense of discovery," said the museum's Kim Hempy. "Discovery is in our name, and when they discover, it's key."

Kindergarteners learned about masks of the world, while magnets were the focus for students in grade one, simple machines were the concentration of students in grade two, third-graders emphasized rocks and geology, fourth graders zeroed in on weather and fifth-graders concentrated on invertebrates.

"We have seen every grade at City Park and Park Creek — I think I've been in Dalton more than Chattanooga this month — and it's just been awesome," said Whittney Hendren, who has been with the Creative Discovery Museum for nearly a decade. "I love everything about this job, (as) it's all my favorite parts of teaching."

"Everything is standards-based, hands-on, experiential learning," Hendren added. For the geology lesson, "we're doing some soil testing, a fossil dig, rock testing, creating metamorphic rocks and classifying rocks, (so) there's a lot in this."

Before City Park third-grade teacher McKenzie Kierce learned the Creative Discovery Museum would visit her school, "I was really hoping we could get the Creative Discovery Museum here, so when I found out (they'd be coming), I was so, so excited," she said. "I'm a very hands-on teacher — we're building solar ovens right now in class to learn about heat energy — and I like for them to do experiments."

City Park's third-graders classified and matched rocks like obsidian, created metamorphic rocks through heat and pressure, tested clay, loam and sand, and examined the three types of rocks (igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary). They also tested whether rocks float or sink, if they're magnetic, the hardness of rocks, and their luster.

"With all the different stations, it's not just rocks, it's all the standards, and it's student-centered learning," Kierce said. "They learn a lot more with hands-on experiences than me just standing up there in front of the room talking at them."

"You get to actually see how they look, and a lot of these (rocks) you don't see everywhere," said third-grader Xoeigh Lee. "It's pretty cool to learn about rocks, because they can have different colors and textures."

It is "super cool, because you notice all the different things in rocks," said classmate Patrick Karr. "My favorite (so far) is obsidian, because it's very mysterious."

Hempy emphasized "all simple machines help us do our work, but, sometimes, we can use them for fun," when she visited City Park's second-graders.

At a lever station, students could try to balance dinosaur figurines on small fulcrums, grate wax at the wedge station, and race cars down ramps with inclined planes.

"More momentum is gained with a higher plane," while "a wheel turns around a still axle, (and) the more pulleys you have, the more you can lift," Hempy told students in City Park's auditorium. "You can even lift cars with pulleys, and an elevator is a pulley system."

"Wedges are all over the place," she said. "We just don't think about them."

"A wedge, like scissors, breaks things apart, (so) a shovel is a wedge, because it breaks apart soil, and a needle is a wedge, because it breaks fabrics apart," she added. "A butter knife is a wedge, because it breaks apart butter."

Through hands-on exploration of a half-dozen simple machines — fulcrums, inclined planes, pulleys, screws, wedges and wheels-and-axles — students learned more than by simply reading, listening or watching, said second-grader Noah Kilgore, whose personal favorite was the pulley system. "It reminds me of a well, and I've always wanted to go to a well."

His classmate, Angeleaha Payne, couldn't choose a favorite of the six stations, because "they're all fun," she said. The way simple machines can lighten a workload and make seemingly insurmountable tasks possible will stick with her most from the lesson, as she saw how the machines "can make heavy things lighter."

The "hands-on aspect of this lets them know more about everyday items they might not think about normally, and they're really engaged with this subject," said Lauren Pippin, a long-term substitute for second-grade teacher Rebekah Rogers while she's on maternity leave. "They've been identifying simple machines all around the school, like ramps."

Because students "are so engaged, they'll have moments in life when they notice (these things)," Hempy said. "When they leave here, they'll realize simple machines are all around us."

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