LAPS Foundation Grant Brings Hands-on Physics to Barranca Elementary

Barranca Mesa second-grader Emma Frost uses a flashlight and a diffraction grating to separate white light into the colors of the rainbow. Courtesy/LAPS Foundation

LAPS News:

Light diffraction, gravity and black holes might be typical subjects for a college lecture hall ─ or a second grade classroom at Barranca Elementary School.

This semester students in Melanie Haagenstad and Kay Swadener’s classes have begun a six-lesson program introducing physics. This unit is made possible through a Los Alamos Public Schools Foundation Great Ideas Grant awarded to Haagenstad in the fall. 

The lessons are created and taught by Nicole Lloyd-Ronning, an astrophysicist affiliated with Los Alamos National Laboratory. With three young children of her own, Lloyd-Ronning has a gift for making high-level concepts accessible to early elementary students by breaking down the topics into simple concepts and by coupling instruction with a variety of hands-on experiments.

 Lloyd-Ronning hopes to “introduce young minds to the fact that physics is not only a tool that explains the wonders of the world around us, but also a dynamic and vibrant science accessible to everyone at every age.”

Student Emma Frost said the class was “intelligent and fun,” and she was thrilled to “play with balloons and use magnets and bottles to bend water” in the study of forces. 

Haagenstad is delighted to have an expert help her class, and she is hopeful that introduction to science, technology, engineering and mathematic (STEM) fields in such a fashion will allow her students to hold have lifelong curiosity.

“This is one of those incredible opportunities made possible by our unique community and through the generosity of LAPS Foundation,” Haagenstad said. 

Barranca Principal Brad Parker met with Lloyd-Ronning shortly after the grant was awarde, to create a plan that would extend this experience to other grades. His enthusiasm and support have already brought Lloyd-Ronning’s instruction to the sixth grade classes and to the fourth grade GATE classes at Barranca,

“The LAPS Foundation grant has had an immediate and positive domino effect on the school,” Parker said. 

 “My child already knows more about physics as a 7 year old than I do at 40!” one parent said.