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Teaching teachers, reaching kids
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Newton County resident Frieda Aiken is such a great science teacher, she was asked to write a chapter of a teacher resource book.

Corwin Press Editor Randi Stone contacted Aiken - a 20-year teaching veteran - after she won the prestigious Toyota Tapestry Grant in 2005. Stone asked Aiken to submit two or three articles for the science edition of her series, "Best Practices for Teaching."

"In her series, she's been using award-winning teachers to write chapters in her books," Aiken said.

Aiken submitted three articles - one about coordinating Butts County Family Science Nights, another about helping to establishing a school trail system and outdoor classroom and the last about authentic or hands-on learning.

Stone selected Aiken's article about Family Science Night.

"It's kind of like going to a museum and not having to pay," Aiken said.

In the winter of 2000, Aiken organized a school science night. Butts County elementary school students now enjoy Family Science Nights every other year as it rotates with Family Reading Night.

The Georgia Youth Science and Technology Center provides boxed science experiments for teachers to use at the event.

 "It's a real easy night in that teachers just pick out a box and set it up on a table," Aiken said.

Aiken listed the most popular features as the Star Lab - a portable planetarium - and a life-size model of a Right Whale.

"It was the length of our cafeteria and it was made of trash bags," Aiken said.

Children and parents could walk through the whale from tail to mouth.

"It's a wonderful way to realize how huge the animal is - they loved it," Aiken said.

Families could then peruse other aquatic features set up in the cafeteria such as other animal models and sea shells.

"Some children never get to the ocean," Aiken said, "and rather than read it in a book, they get to really experience it."

Other popular science experiments include placing a student in a giant bubble with a hula hoop, making hair stand on end with a Van de Graaff generator and seeing what side of a penny can hold more drops of liquid.

"It's amazing how many drops you can put on a penny," Aiken said.

Live animals have also been brought in from local dairy companies and the Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center.

She said what started as a school event has turned into a county-wide affair that students, parents and teachers eagerly anticipate.

Aiken also coordinates a third, fourth and fifth grade trip to Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala. every year.

"I've got it down to an art," Aiken

In 2005, Aiken was awarded the Toyota Tapestry Grant for her "Ecology in a Box" program. The kit she created is packed with everything a teacher needs for her students to conduct school-yard experiments such as dissecting microscopes, dip nets and water quality testers.

Aiken was also named Jackson Elementary Teacher of the Year and District Science Teacher of the Year, both for the 2001-2002 school year.

She was first published in a 1992 edition of the science magazine "Odyssey" for her article entitled "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star."

The article outlined how to estimate the number of stars visible in the night sky by cutting a 4-inch square out of a piece of cardboard, holding it a foot away and viewing the stars visible in the square with one eye closed.

The average number of stars counted through the square multiplied by 57 gives an approximate number of visible stars.

Aiken said the experiment reminds her of the stars she sees in the daytime - her students. She instructs gifted students in kindergarten through fifth grades in science for one hour per grade level.

Recently her students made "sticky paste" and solved a fictional CSI mystery in class. She said she enjoys the natural curiosity her students exhibit, and it invigorates her to use her best practices everyday.

"In the gifted program, I can teach science and reading and writing at the same time, and it's so nice when you are flexible and can tie it all together - and the children love it," Aiken said, "and I just love teaching children.

"It doesn't matter what school you go to every child needs to be exposed to science."