Hungry for science at the Patterson Science Center

Apr. 17, 2014 @ 06:45 AM

Walking through the trees, crunching dead leaves underfoot, you are overcome with the feeling of being watched. Jumping over streams and hiking up hills, you search for food, water and shelter while watching your back for any predators when suddenly, a bear, a wolf and a bobcat burst from the dense foliage. They rush forward, and as you turn and run, you hope you won’t feel their teeth and claws grabbing the tag dangling around your neck reading “Vole.”

“The Hunger Games” at the Patterson Science Center was an activity recently teaching students about the food chain by having each student play the part of a carnivore, omnivore or herbivore. While moving through the hiking trails behind the center, students had to look for stones that represented food, water and shelter while keeping an eye out for hungry predators. Should a carnivore “eat” (tag) a smaller omnivore or any herbivore, the student playing the carnivore collected the “eaten” student’s stones as a prize. The first group that collected all the appropriate stones in an amount that supports the group won the game.

“The Hunger Games” is part of a pilot program for fifth- and eighth-graders in Caldwell County Schools. Previously, the grades could only visit once a year, but now, staff from the science center travels to students in the classroom and has them come visit the facility, in the countryside of Caldwell County, multiple times throughout the year.

Amy Bradley, the center's director, added multiple new programs for grade levels K-8. Many of them use science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM. Some programs include “Matter Matters!” for fifth-graders, “Weigh to Go” for eighth-graders, “Changes Through Time” for eighth-graders and “Welcome to Earth, 3rd Rock From the Sun” for third-graders. All the programs involve hands-on activities as well as assignments for students to complete before and after visiting the Patterson Science Center. 

Bradley, who previously taught at Hibriten High School, said she loves seeing the kids enjoy themselves while learning about her favorite subject.

“I also like that I can’t go anywhere in Caldwell County [without] having a student come up to me and telling me something they love about science,” Bradley said.

School officials plan for the science center, which occupies what once was the private Patterson School boarding school, to expand even more by creating programs for high school students, allowing students from other counties to visit, offering summer camps and restoring another building on campus for more classroom space.

Superintendent Steve Stone said he hopes that the center will become a regional science center, starting with a push next year to market it to other counties as a field trip or camp destination.

“Long-term, down the road five to 10 years, we’d like to get one of those dorms, repair it and have it [for] week-long camps,” Stone said.

During a recent school board work session, the board voted to restore the Chester Building, which is currently used for storage. The cost is estimated at $70,550.

Stone said that restoring the building will provide more classroom space and, he hopes, bring in business partners such as Google, Greer Labs and Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corp.

“Here’s what I think: Like Blue Ridge Electric, they teach to all of our fourth-graders a unit on electricity,” Stone said. “It would just make sense for them, instead of them having to pick up their bag every day and going to a different class, for us to have a common site for our business partners to invest a little bit of time and energy and money into that classroom and make it their lab that they can use for a week or two weeks. But, I’d like to see our business community really get into that, and I’d like to see them utilize it as well as CCC&TI.”

Recently, the Patterson Science Center received two grants from Google in order to provide summer camps to students. The first grant is a Stimulating Minds grant for an estimated $25,000 partnered with North Carolina State University’s Science House. The money will sponsor two camps, one called Cyborg Cockroaches versus Serpents and the other Raspberry Pi, both in July.

The second grant is with UNC-Chapel Hill, Google and GlaxoSmithKline. It will allow the Center to offer three camps, one in June, July and August.  At these camps, students will participate in STEM astronomy activities. It also pays for three weeks at the Center for middle school students to participate in STEM science programs.