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COLOR them scientists

By Jim BencivengaStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / February 18, 1988



Brookline, Mass.

THE introductions prove just as important as the visit. They certainly are to my guide, third-grader James Rosicky, as he gives me a tour of his classroom. Midnight, the black guinea pig, hides inside a well-chewed shoe box. ``No lettuce today,'' James says matter-of-factly, giving an understanding pat to the trembling fur ball. He taps on the glass of the terrarium, to show that ``the lizard is real and not a fake.'' Plenty of brown sugar for the ant colony. Then, a quick count of the goldfish, to see ``if any died last night.'' Inside the tank, oblivious to the census being taken on the outside - ``seven, no, eight'' - the orange shapes dart in and out of green plants and air bubbles, as self-contained in their water world as Rosemary McKinney's 18 third-graders are in their learning world at the Edward Devotion public elementary school.

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De rigueur with the conclusion of his tour, a stop at the ``Ink and Wink'' publishing corner for a quick scan of the scientific opus ``My Snake,'' by science writer James Rosicky.

When I finish looking at his book, James introduces me to his classmates. Then, two decibels above a loud whisper, Mrs. McKinney announces that the geography lesson is over. Next will be a scientific experiment, ``colorization,'' she tells the world explorers, instantly turned scientists.

Sitting with desks and chairs in one large circle, eight ``research'' teams of two spring into action (James's partner is not in today). Eyedroppers, test tubes, kits containing the three primary colors, dishes of liquid soap and corn oil, and plain tap water appear as if by spontaneous generation out of cabinets, off of countertops (and with the assistance of practice teacher Neil Brick). The materials make their way across the room onto the children's desks, which are all of 26 inches in height. Defying gravity, not a drop is spilled - so far.

The children have been studying what happens when different colors are mixed, McKinney says. Today, they are going to experiment, hands on, with how the transformations occur. More important, and even though they may not realize it, these youngsters are going to think scientifically.

Like thirsty hummingbirds, empty eyedroppers hover above test tubes. McKinney quietly, yet directly, reminds the students of the three questions they should be asking themselves as they conduct their experiment. The questions are posted on the wall:

1.What do I know?

2.What do I think I know?

3.What would I like to know?

Of such come Nobel laureates. McKinney has no doubt that two, at least, will get their start right here in her classroom.

``If you mix a little red, a little blue, a little yellow, you get a rainbow,'' Cicily Keona-Carpenter says. Then, proving her point, ever so carefully three drops trickle from her eyedropper onto a paper towel. Colors fan out like the spokes of a wheel.

``The more colors you add, the more colors you can see,'' she says as her eyes, opening wider, mirror the spreading drops.

Rainbows are there for Katherine Ferris also. Lost in wonder at the sight of ``a whole rainbow'' right in the small test tube she holds aloft to the light, two wonders compete with her emotions. One, that the colors of the rainbow have materialized because of what she did; the