Last updated: March 25. 2014 12:05PM - 1060 Views
By Lauren Williams Staff Writer

Lauren Williams/Sampson IndependentAmber Oliver, a Mop Top events coordinator, explains to Sunset Avenue fourth-graders in the after school Blazing Stars Academy how to transform their shoebox into a night sky complete with different phases of the moon.
Lauren Williams/Sampson IndependentAmber Oliver, a Mop Top events coordinator, explains to Sunset Avenue fourth-graders in the after school Blazing Stars Academy how to transform their shoebox into a night sky complete with different phases of the moon.
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Fourth-graders in the Blazing Stars Academy after-school program at Sunset Avenue School had the chance to be junior astronomers last week as they participated in one of the many exciting projects now provided to them through Mop Top Shop.

Mop Top Shop, an educational organization based out of Raleigh, provides an after-school program that aims to “reinforce academic skills as well as provide homework assistance using hands-on and interactive activities” with attention paid to reading, comprehension, discussion, writing, and math, according to the organization’s website.

“Most of all, each student will acquire valuable instruction that can be applied to their academic pursuits as well as career goals,” reads the website, highlighting the emphasis placed on STEM — science, technology, engineering, and math — enrichment.

Last Thursday, the fourth-graders’ hands-on activity was all about the study of the moon.

“We’re doing a moon phases project,” shared Amber Oliver, Mop Top Shop events coordinator. “We’re simulating the phases of the moon with just a shoebox, a flashlight, a ping pong ball, fishing line, and a brass clip.”

Borrowing one of the student’s shoeboxes, Oliver explained that the students were taking measurements around the box in order to find the appropriate places on each side to make a small hole, one just big enough to look through. Once the holes were made, students then pulled out their paintbrushes to transform the inside of their boxes into a black night sky; they could even light up their sky with glow-in-the-dark stars. The next step was for students to use the brass clip and the fishing line to hang the ping pong ball from their shoebox’s lid, suspending it in the “night sky” like a moon.

“The flashlight is the sun and you (the viewer) are the earth,” Oliver explained, demonstrating how if students shined the light through one hole and looked through another hole they could simulate, see, and better understand all the different phases of the moon.

“It’s something that they can do with their hands,” said Oliver, pointing out that Mop Top Shop doesn’t do lectures but instead creates its own curriculum full of interesting projects and experiments that will engage kids. “And it’s something they can take home with them. We always do something that they can take home with them when they leave.”

After creating their moon phase boxes, students journaled about the experience, describing how to do the project and what materials they used. They also noted the new moon-themed vocabulary they had learned through the activity which included words and phrases like “full moon” and “satellite.”

Other projects that Mop Top Shop has done with Clinton City School students in the after-school program have ranged from everything to studying plants in a horticulture project to learning about all the different bones that make up the human body as part of a “Bad to the Bone” forensic anthropology project.

“We understand that parents have to work,” said Oliver, “so we see a need and we fill it…This kind of thing (the moon phase project) gets them doing things with their hands and it’s really about getting the children excited about learning. We want it to be STEMulating all the time.”

No worries there; the Sunset Avenue fourth-graders were eager to share their excitement last week.

“It’s pretty cool,” agreed brother and sister, Ethan and Brianna Robinson with Ethan noting that Mop Top Shop activities are “fun but the main part of it is learning.”

“I like the projects because they explain it to you and then you get to do it,” added Alaya Bronson, who was helping Brianna finish making the holes in her shoebox so that the two of them could move on to the painting table and transform the inside of their boxes into a star-filled night sky.

“It’s about learning new things, building new things,” said Samuel Rosalva.

“They’re all fun activities,” fellow student Kalashya Chestnutt added, mentioning that she also enjoyed the previous projects where she got to observe plants and study bones.

The Mop Top Shop after-school program is a new addition to the city school’s Blazing Stars Academy. The Clinton City Board of Education only recently voted back in January to enter into contracts with Mop Top Shop. According to those contracts, Mop Top Shop is to provide “science, technology, language arts, reading , music, and art enrichment programming,” which is to include “Mop Top Shop Storytime;” hands-on activities in robotics, horticulture, clay and digital animation, book and paper-making; and visits from “Mop Top, the Hip-Hop Scientist,” to students at Sunset Avenue School, Butler Avenue School, and L.C. Kerr School.

During the school board’s January meeting, board member Carol Worley shared that she had attended a workshop where Mop Top Shop information was provided and that she was “highly impressed,” adding that she was “fully supportive” of bringing the program to the city schools.

Lauren Williams can be reached at 910-592-8137, ext. 117 or via email at lwilliams@civitasmedia.com.

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