Lab: Young 'scientists' get help from UMass

The collaboration is funded by the National Science Foundation to support frameworks-based science instruction in Springfield-area public schools.


Staff writer

SPRINGFIELD - What chemicals are in pressure-treated woods?

If you don't know the answer, you can visit the seventh grade at Forest Park Middle School, 46 Oakland St.

Students there are participating in a program called Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Connections - a project that was developed in collaboration with the STEM Education Institute and the School of Education at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Last week, their studies including testing pressure-treated wood samples to determine the levels of arsenic.

The project is funded by the National Science Foundation for $1.4 million for three years to support frameworks-based science instruction in Springfield-area public schools.

"Don't they look cool?" Deborah Danoff-Hoppe, seventh-grade teacher, asked as she nodded toward her students in white smocks who shook test tubes under the leadership of UMass faculty members. "It's cool when they see the results of the experiments and say, 'Wow! I've got something!'"

Some 110 students from five classes are involved in the science research project, of which a major focus is the use of inquiry-based learning. Danoff-Hoppe considers this long-term working relationship with UMass to be a chance to enrich the curriculum.

The program has benefited from the assistance of UMass, including the purchase of a computer, a printer and a refrigerator.

Besides participating in research activities in classes, students can see themselves engaged in science on the university's project Web site and monitor the progress of students from other area schools working on various topics.

One of the young researchers, Jalil Herrell, said he likes experimenting with different chemicals, but he hasn't yet thought about a career in chemistry.

Lisa M. Provencher, a fellow at UMass who comes to the school twice a week, said her new students differ from some of those at the university.

"They are more excited, more lively, more curious and more open-minded." Alex Peshkov can be reached at

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