Learning, accelerated at 4-H Day

Albany Democrat Herald
Jennifer Moody
October 8, 2015

TANGENT — Evan Staton carefully placed his plastic car at the top of a thin foam ramp, molded clay driver at the wheel.

At a signal from his partner, 13-year-old Ahmed Moussaoui of Corvallis, the Albany 6-year-old let the car go. It rolled down the ramp and smacked into a toy wagon, sending the clay driver flying.

"His leg broke!" Evan cried, collapsing in giggles while Ahmed surveyed the scene.

"The more mass, the more velocity," his older partner observed. "That's why seat belts save lives." 

Evan, Ahmed and six of their classmates from the online Oregon Connections Academy spent an hour Wednesday afternoon learning about Newton's Laws of Motion at the Oregon State University Extension Office in Tangent.

The extension office was a part of 4-H National Youth Science Day, an annual science program that this year focused on the physics of speed and safety. 

Robin Galloway, county leader for the 4-H Youth program, passed out "Motion Commotion" booklets Wednesday detailing the experiments. She also provided the props and equipment necessary to make them happen. But the experiments themselves, along with the observations and conclusions, were the students' responsibility.

"You guys are going to be scientists today," Galloway explained. "I'm going to give you guidelines, but you get to decide what to do." 

Oregon Connections Academy, which moved its headquarters this year from Scio to Mill City, serves students statewide in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Students from Albany and Corvallis, ranging in age from kindergarten through eighth grade, came to Tangent for 4-H Day.

Younger and older students paired up to work with the toy cars, having them roll down ramps canted at different angles and observing what happened when they hit various objects.

First-grader Ayden Haimes, 7, and his eighth-grade partner Gregory Leathrum, 13, both of Corvallis, found crashing their car into a ball made the ball roll away.

That's a demonstration of Newton's second law, which states an object's acceleration will change only if an unbalanced force acts on it. "The ball started rolling because the unbalance force moved it," Gregory explained.

Parents and learning coaches who came to Tangent with the students Wednesday said online education is the best choice for them, but they were delighted to have an opportunity for a group activity.

Sara Staton, Evan's mother, said she learned about the program on the Oregon Connections Academy message board.

"It's fun to do some science outside of our own classroom, with some other students," she said. "It's fun to do intergenerational science, too."

This was the first time ORCA joined in the national 4-H event, said Lori Kline, an ORCA third-grade teacher.

“I felt it was important to join in because I have many families who ask for advice on how to keep their student active with other children their age," she said. "I think that 4-H is a wonderful opportunity for students to interact with peers both of their own age and both older and younger kids to gain both experience and leadership skills."

Mariia Leathrum, Gregory's mother, and Kathy Sisson, Ayden's grandmother, said one of their favorite aspects of online schooling is that their children can choose the people with whom they spend time, rather than being required to stay in a particular classroom. 

When outside learning opportunities arrive, they tend to attract students who are interested in the same things. Right away, there's common ground for new friendships.

Leathrum nodded at the boys and girls of various ages working together on the speed experiments. No bullying, she said. "They're too busy having fun."