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Willmar Middle School science rooms open for learning

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Briana Sanchez/ Tribune Matthew Garner Lima and Hunter Magnuson, eighth graders, write on the new smart board in Mike Dokkebakken's earth science class at Willmar Middle School Thursday. See video at / 7
Briana Sanchez/ TribuneRahma Muhumed, eighth grader, writes on the new smart board in Mike Dokkebakken's earth science class at Willmar Middle School Thursday.3 / 7
Briana Sanchez/ Tribune Mike Dokkebakken, eighth grade earth science teacher, shows his class how to use a Bunsen burner Thursday in the new science classroom at Willmar Middle School Thursday.4 / 7
Briana Sanchez/ Tribune Hunter Magnuson, eighth grader, write on the new smart board Thursday in Mike Dokkebakken's earth science class at Willmar Middle School Thursday.5 / 7
Briana Sanchez/ TribuneMark Miley, principal at Willmar Middle School, and Mike Dokkebakken, eighth grade earth science teacher, talk in the new science classroom stoarge room at Willmar Middle School Thursday.6 / 7
Briana Sanchez/ TribuneAbby Coquyt and Rachel Lanning, eighth graders, talk about the new science classrooms in Mike Dokkebakken's earth science class at Willmar Middle School Thursday.7 / 7

WILLMAR — Just a few days after Willmar Middle School opened its new science classrooms, students and teachers seemed to be settling in nicely this week.

Mike Dokkebakken had his eighth-grade early science students racing up to a 75-inch Smart TV to answer questions about the other planets in the solar system. Five at a time, the students wrote answers on the screen with their fingertips.

The same display showed up on seven 43-inch HD TVs mounted on walls around the room. Students' iPads can also interact with the technology.

The two four-classroom additions to the Middle School opened Jan. 15, with the beginning of a new term. The more than $5 million for the additions came from the $53.25 million bond referendum the district's voters approved in May 2015. The science classrooms are the first major piece of the building program to be completed.

One addition has rooms for seventh- and eighth-graders, the other for sixth-graders The sixth-grade addition includes restrooms and allows sixth-graders to stay in one part of the building for much of the day.

Dokkebakken, the chair of the school's science department, said the new rooms have many nice features. With the sound system and the mounted TV,s students with trouble hearing or seeing don't need special seating arrangements. The rooms are quite a bit larger, too

The gas lines had been closed off in the old science classrooms, and the infrastructure had been upgraded little since the 1960s. One of the eighth-grade science rooms has a gas line, which teachers thought would be adequate for their needs.

Getting moved into the new classrooms was a group effort, Miley said. The science teachers planned it and did some moving after school. Other staff members volunteered to help, too.

Some equipment remains in the old storage rooms, waiting to be sorted. Moving 409 years of equipment was a big task, Dokkebakken said.

Ask a few students in Dokkebakken's class what they think of the rooms, and the immediate response is, "It's really cool."

Rachel Lanning, 13, said the rooms are huge, and she liked that more than one person could write on the big screen at a time.

"It's just a lot bigger, and you can see things better," said Ali Poe, 14.

Abby Coquyt, 14, said it was nice that the teacher could dim the lights when needed. The TVs are really nice.

The girls praised the seating, too, with higher chairs and work tables, saying it felt "more professional."

The heavy duty tables are on casters, so each teacher can organize the room as he or she likes. That was clear during a Thursday tour, when each classroom varied from the others.

Science teacher John Kuznik, who teaches grades 6 and 7, said the students love the new rooms and took immediately to the new technology in them.

He brought up some of the same things Dokkebakken had. "There's no bad spot in the room," he said, with the sound system and the mounted screens.

An Open House will be held later, but a date hasn't been set yet, said Principal Mark Miley Thursday.

"We're eager to share it and show it off," Miley said. "People need to see what their money's going to."

It was important to get the teachers and students in the room first, he said.

"It feels good," Miley said. "You can tell the kids really enjoy it."

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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