THE PRESS OF ATLANTIC CITY

Thursday, August 10, 2000

Section: REGION, BACK TO SCHOOL Page: E5

SCIENCE IN A BOTTLE / HANDS-ON PROJECTS MAKE LESSONS MORE EFFECTIVE - AND FUN By DIANE D'AMICO Education Writer, (609) 272-7241

Every year Jan Manganiello and her students create tiny worlds, then destroy some of them, all in the name of science and education.

They're called soda-bottle ecosystems. They teach children to understand how plants, animals, humans and the environment are all connected.

The project meets both New Jersey and National Science Foundation standards for science and represents the trend towards hands-on lessons with real-life meaning for children in every grade level.

It takes Manganiello, a fifth-grade science teacher at the Smithville School, a bit longer than six days to create her worlds. The 16-lesson project takes about a month to complete.

"I have no behavioral problems when I do this unit," Manganiello said during a training class for teachers at the Educational Technology Training Center at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. "The students want their fish.

" The ecosystem is a two-part project that combines an aquarium and a terrarium, enclosed in interlocking plastic soda bottles. The bottom section is stocked with water plants, snails and guppies.

"This is totally self-sufficient," Manganiello said. "You don't have to feed it or anything."

"Oh, I like that," said Margarita Garces from the Lakewood school district, who works with bilingual students. Next the students create their terrarium, growing rye, alfalfa and mustard seeds.

"They start growing in about three days and the students get so excited," Manganiello said.

Martine Robinson, a sixth-grade teacher at the Indiana Avenue School in Atlantic City, said doing a project like the ecosystem makes students want to come to school every day.

"They come in excited," she said. "They can't wait to see what's next."

Once their plants and fish are growing, it's time to kill them off. A few ecosystems are chosen to receive outside pollutants - excess fertilizer, acid rain and salt.

"Some students will volunteer theirs, but otherwise we draw from a hat," Manganiello said. "And I will let them take their fish out if they don't want them to die.

" The fertilizer addition is a lesson in what happens when there is too much of a good thing.

"At first everything grows like crazy," she said. "But then the plants start dying, followed by the fish. We talk about gardens and farms and runoff from fertilizers and pesticides, and how they can affect the environment." For the acid rain test the class uses pH tape to test their own water and water from surrounding areas.

After the salt test, they discuss the impact of salt used to de-ice roads in the winter, and how it can get into soil and water.

"One year my students wrote to the Township Committee to ask them to use sand rather than salt on the roads to protect the environment," Manganiello said.

Throughout the project the students record their data and observations, using scientific methods. They do drawings, take measurements, and yes, take a test.

"But they are graded on their entire project, not just the test," Manganiello said. "It gives a much better overall view of what a child has learned.

" Manganiello also teaches workshops on using microscopes and hatching chicks. Equipment for those projects is available for schools to borrow through the ETTC at Stockton. Call (609) 652-4931.

The eco-system project is available through the Science and Technology for Children Program.