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Sophie Gorshenin, 10, concentrates on the cyclone she is ceating using water and a pair of two-liter bottles Thursday at Darmstadt Elementary School, Darmstadt, Germany.
Sophie Gorshenin, 10, concentrates on the cyclone she is ceating using water and a pair of two-liter bottles Thursday at Darmstadt Elementary School, Darmstadt, Germany. (Geoff Ziezulewicz / S&S)
Sophie Gorshenin, 10, concentrates on the cyclone she is ceating using water and a pair of two-liter bottles Thursday at Darmstadt Elementary School, Darmstadt, Germany.
Sophie Gorshenin, 10, concentrates on the cyclone she is ceating using water and a pair of two-liter bottles Thursday at Darmstadt Elementary School, Darmstadt, Germany. (Geoff Ziezulewicz / S&S)
From left, 11-year-old Al Montrice Nelson and Sophie Gorshenin, 10, and Kristin Lamanteer, 10, revel in all things science Thursday at a computer terminal in the Darmstadt Elementary School lobby.
From left, 11-year-old Al Montrice Nelson and Sophie Gorshenin, 10, and Kristin Lamanteer, 10, revel in all things science Thursday at a computer terminal in the Darmstadt Elementary School lobby. (Geoff Ziezulewicz / S&S)
Al Montrice Nelson, 11, conjures up a cyclone using water and a pair of two-liter bottles Thursday at Darmstadt Elementary School.
Al Montrice Nelson, 11, conjures up a cyclone using water and a pair of two-liter bottles Thursday at Darmstadt Elementary School. (Geoff Ziezulewicz / S&S)

DARMSTADT, Germany — The desire to make learning fun is such an oft-stated goal among educators that it’s almost clichéd.

But at Darmstadt Elementary School, in a lobby chock-full of cardboard tubes, inverted cola bottles and other staples of classroom projects, the pupils seem to actually be enjoying their education.

On Thursday, a group of younger students took turns making tornadoes with two taped-together plastic bottles. Nearby, fifth-grader Kristin Lamanteer explained how a second rainbow can be produced above the initial arch, with the order of colors reversed.

The approximately 500 students of Darmstadt Elementary, from kindergarten to fifth grade, have science on their minds. And members of the school staff say they have found a new way to teach the science of things to their charges.

A program started at the school this year places science at the forefront of student education, and Darmstadt Elementary is now officially a science-focused school. Through a series of monthlong topics — students just wrapped up the meteorology unit — pupils in all grades learn about the same subject simultaneously.

Next up is a unit on how roller coasters work. The staff will spend part of the winter break constructing a roller coaster model in the lobby for students to see when they get back.

“It’s the curriculum disguised in a fun form,” Principal Russ Claus said Thursday. “We are adding another aspect to the way we teach it.”

The program is also aimed at helping students to learn in ways that go beyond memorization of terms and concepts they are taught, Claus said. Analysis, synthesis and evaluation are key in the new approach.

“It’s always possible for kids to read something and recall it or regurgitate it,” he said. “But when you have to tear something apart and put it back together, when you can do those things, you become an expert in that area.”

Standing next to Kristin on Thursday, 11-year-old Al Montrice Nelson explained an intricate weather station he had made, complete with a homemade thermometer.

“It tells how cold it is,” he said matter-of-factly.

After a unit on how space shuttles work ended earlier this year, the students who turned their projects in first got to take a field trip to the European Space Agency in Darmstadt, said Karla Mazelis, gifted education teacher. An agency representative also spoke at the school during the unit.

“We do not want dry education,” she said.

Slyvia Dughaish, who has two children attending the school, said she thinks the staff is doing “a really good job” with the science focus.

“The kids get really excited to do it. The science standards are higher here than in the States.”

Such a program is similar to some science magnet schools in the United States, said Susan Ramsey, an instructional systems specialist for elementary science at the Department of Defense Dependents Schools in Europe.

With American students lagging behind their international peers in math and science test scores, early focus on these subjects is key to solving the problem, she said.

“The kids are excited, the parents are excited, the teachers are excited,” Ramsey said. “And it’s really bringing a focus on science that is needed.”

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