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After-school science club helps Willmar students broaden their horizons

Kyle Stulen designs a paper kite during an after-school science program. Known as CHAOS, the program helps students see real world applications for what they learn in science classes. Tribune photos by Ron Adams

After three years of CHAOS Club, the ninth-grade members are sorry to see it end. "I'll be part of a bake sale to keep this going," said Max Packa, a freshman at Willmar Senior High.

CHAOS, short for Crazy Humans Attempting Outrageous Stuff, is a weekly after-school program supported by the University of Minnesota Extension Service. It helps students see real world applications for what they learn in science classes. Unfortunately for Max and the other ninth-graders, they probably will have to move on to other interests next year. Funding is only available for the sixth-grade and seventh-grade clubs next year.

The Extension Service has provided a five-year grant for the club, which has been in operation for three years so far.

The students involved in the program have been invited into the program at the suggestion of their science or math teachers. Middle School Child Guide Aggie Meium seeks the referrals and connects the kids with the program if they and their parents are interested.

At one of their last meetings of the school year last week, each age group had a different project.

In one room, Krista Lautenschlager, a 4-H program coordinator with the Extension Service, corralled a handful of seventh-grade girls to talk about compasses and show them how to magnetize a sewing needle.

In teacher Ben Panchyshyn's sixth-grade group, the members had researched and designed their own projects. The goal is to get them to question things and make observations as they work, he said.

The students came up with a variety of ideas. Some girls made their own eye shadow and mascara in unusual colors -- bright green and pink for shadow and purple and neon blue for mascara.

Other projects included makeup remover and hand cream.

One boy made a model of a volcano, and another made rockets with film canisters. Still another was hanging paper clips in jars of purple and yellow sweet liquid so rock candy could form on the clips.

The ninth-graders were making kites with teacher Scott Thompson. Rachel Thein said they had been hoping for another year of CHAOS.

The club is fun because "you have school and social stuff combined," she said. "We've learned all kinds of stuff, from making a kite out of paper and string to making a robot."

Max said the club helps them learn more about what they can do with the knowledge they gain in science classes. Several of the students said the club helped them think about possible careers.

Last week, regional extension educator Trish Sheehan spoke with the students about their experiences with CHAOS.

When she asked the sixth-graders about their year, the comments came fast:

"I like that we always get to do experiments; in school science we always have to take notes."

"This is a more hands-on class."

"I like to build my own stuff."

"I would change nothing about what we do here."

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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