April 27, 2010 12:00AM
First-grader Karen Maturino didn't know what to expect as she walked through the thatch-covered doors to what used to be her school cafeteria. But as she entered the room, now transformed into a lush, chirping jungle complete with palm trees and props reminiscent of an Indiana Jones adventure, her day at West Central Elementary in Joplin, Mo., just got a lot more interesting.
"I'm so glad I'm at school today!" she said after being chosen to hula-hoop in front of her classmates before climbing into a wooden wheel demonstrating the same rotary motion. "This is a fun day. We don't get to do this every day."
Thanks to Pittsburg State University professor Mike Neden and his technology education students, the physics and math lessons these children are learning may be concepts they'll never forget. On Tuesday, Neden presented "The Mystery of the Golden Gorilla" to students at West Central Elementary in Joplin, Mo., a treasure hunt exploration that teaches children about physics - disguised in fun. For the past 10 years, Neden and his students have spent the spring semester creating an adventurous activity that solidifies the lessons children have been learning all year.
"This is really cool," said Joplin Superintendent C.J. Huff as he toured the maze. "I'm impressed by the amount of work that went into this. It's so much more than I anticipated when I got here this morning."
Divided into different stations, the activity featured a real moving car that laid a bridge across the Treachery Tar Pits, canoes (on small wheels) that children rowed through the Crocodile River Rapids, the Mad Monkey Mine - a real roller coaster made of a wood car speeding across a frame of PVC pipes, and the Mystery Maze, where children compiled clues gathered along the way to spell out the location of the hidden treasure. The stations, each focusing on different elements of math and science, were all built by the PSU students manning them and accentuated with dim lights and tropical background noises.
"It's an awesome opportunity for us," said Rachel Hartley, a junior technology education major, who taught children how to use Python Pass, a large wooden wheel they moved by crawling inside. "We're learning to work with students of all ages, and modifying activities by the seat of our pants. It's a great experience that's teaching us what it will really be like."
The value of technology education, a major that trains PSU students to become teachers while showing them to use and develop classroom technology that will bolster curriculum - is evident through activities like this.
"How many of you have ever rowed a boat?" asked Neden, as children with jungle-print visors threw their hands in the air and squirmed with excitement. "Force is what you use to move the boat through the water with a paddle." His assistant, senior Brandon Teel, reiterated a few more concepts. "What do we call this?" he said, motioning to a display. "Levers," the children chant. "Wheels. Ful-crum. Pul-leys. In-cline plane."
With a roller coaster awaiting them to drive home the lesson, they're terms these students aren't likely to forget.
"I like bringing an opportunity to children that they wouldn't normally get," Neden said. "We're using technology in ways that benefit these kids. It's a great experience for everyone."