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Van Becomes Mobile Learning Tool For Worcester Co.

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By CHARLENE SHARPE
The Daily Times of Salisbury

BERLIN, Md. (AP) — Superintendent of Schools Jon Andes was skeptical when he heard Salisbury University wanted to give the Worcester County Board of Education a van.

Especially a van that was several years old. Nevertheless, he heeded the urging of Science Coordinator Marlyn Barrett and accepted the van, which has now been turned into mobile learning tool.

“It’s a phenomenal resource,” Andes said.

The Mobile Environmental Research Laboratory Investigating Nature– MERLIN is the resulting acronym– is visiting the county’s schools to enhance students’ environmental education, a field of study made even more important by Maryland’s new environmental literacy graduation requirement. Passed by the state board of education in 2010, it requires local school systems to provide comprehensive, multidisciplinary environmental education programs to all students, according to Worcester County school system staff.

Barrett acquired the van this spring and began getting it ready for its new career. Students from Worcester Technical High School helped with the artistic paint job, Barrett said, while she gathered supplies like puppets, shells and rocks for the inside of the van.

When second-grade students at Buckingham Elementary School climbed aboard the van for the first time this month, they were greeted with an entire mobile science lab, stocked with safety glasses, brightly colored aprons and a variety of learning aids.

Barrett led them through hands-on activities designed to teach them about the three different types of rocks. Students flattened and folded different colors of Play-Doh to represent igneous rocks.

“Is it the same all the way through?” Barrett asked the children. “No. It’s got layers.”

The students used an assortment of other materials, including bread, jelly and gummy bears, to get an idea of what sedimentary rocks were, while marshmallows and chocolate chips were used by Barrett to demonstrate metamorphic rocks.

Donna Socha, the children’s second grade teacher, said the van was a way for all different types of learners to better understand topics that were in the grade’s curriculum.

“In second grade we do a lot of hands on learning, so this was the perfect thing,” she said, adding that when she was a child there wasn’t such an array of educational opportunities. “When I was growing up it was just paper and pencil.”

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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