NORTH ADAMS -- Williams College students Sarah Gottesman and Mpaza Kapembwa, both 20, were told by an education professional this summer that fourth-graders tend to lose interest in science.
And it was their job to change that.
This summer, as part of a work-study program, they brainstormed with Williams College professionals, as well as teachers and students from Brayton, Greylock, and Williamstown elementary schools, to craft a curriculum to get the fourth-grade students excited about the science of energy.
So on Wednesday evening, at a science fair hosted at Brayton Elementary School, Kapembwa watched the result of that work with some pride as 9-year-old Brayton student Alyssa Duncan enthusiastically explained the mechanics of hydropower energy.
Alyssa, with a team of six others, led an 11-slide presentation prepared on an iPad, which touted water energy as a pollution-free, renewable energy source.
The group used a pencil, tape, string and a couple of cartons to produce a water-powered mill capable of lifting a bag of 50 marbles.
But hard-won success was achieved only after some trial and error.
"We thought we would have to rip the bag open and take some of the marbles out to make it work," Alyssa said. "But we didn't. We kept all 50 marbles in."
Fourth-grade teacher Susan Candiloro, of Brayton Ele mentary, said she was im pressed with the lesson plan put together by Gottesman, a double major in art history and biology, and Kapembwa, a Chinese major.
Both Williams student have expressed interest in teaching in the future.
Candiloro said that it was evident that her fourth-graders were engaged.
"Every lesson came with some hands-on activity for the day," said Candiloro, who said her "old school" approach relied more on presentations.
It didn't hurt that her students could use an iPad during lessons. The Williams Elementary Outreach Pro gram, which provided guidance to the students, secured a grant last spring from the Verizon Foundation that was used in part to purchase 13 iPads now being used in North Adams schools.
Neither student took the responsibility lightly. Kapem bwa, who came to Atlanta as a 14-year-old from Zambia, Africa, said there was pressure about producing a lesson plan that would be the groundwork for the students' knowledge about energy.
The curriculum required the 9-and-10-year-olds to interview Williams College experts in energy, create a slideshow presentation on the iPad and test with plenty of experiments.
Kapembwa would spend at least an hour a week in elementary school classrooms as part of the work-study program. He said the curriculum was devised by pulling from government websites, textbooks and personal experience.
"You don't want to kill science for the students," he said about the pressure. "In fourth grade, the students choose their favorite subject. If it's too hard, then it's not fun."
"We're full-time students and we have great professors and it seems so easy for them," Gottesman said. "To teach something like what is energy-- it's difficult to teach something so vague."
Candiloro said that she was impressed with the curriculum because the students were learning, engaged in hands-on activities, collaborating, using technology and improving on giving presentations -- a very important skill.