Mustering clusters

Third-grade students participate in hands-on group learning

— Tomorrow afternoon, third-graders at Soda Creek Elementary School might think something is missing.

It will be the first Monday in a month that the students won't participate in a "cluster" activity with a small group of their classmates and a parent volunteer. Every Monday afternoon since Jan. 23, third-graders have gone to quiet areas throughout the school, gotten their hands dirty and learned a skill or subject outside of the usual curriculum.

"It's a good way to bring parent expertise, students and teachers together," Principal Judy Harris said.

Titles for the mini-classes have included: Geology, Cooking, Sewing and Scrapbooking, How it Works, Recording, Experiments, Animals and Computers, Islands and Oceans, Spanish and Woodworking.

Although the clusters program is finished, most of the children got to take home gifts that will help them keep learning.

The six third-graders in Connie Brown's geology class left the program with geological maps of the Yampa Valley, trays of labeled rocks and minerals and a magnifying glass.

They also left with a little local knowledge.

"If you want to find some beautiful samples of pyrites, look near Hahn's Peak," Brown told her group Monday, referring to the brass-colored mineral often called "fool's gold."

"And check out these azurites," Brown said, holding up several of the blue gemstones used as a copper ore. "Aren't they beautiful?"

Student Andrew Sabia, 9, was more impressed with the large regional map Brown held up for the class. As Brown traced a geological fault line with her finger, a light bulb flashed on in Sabia's brain.

"So, half the valley is sedimentary (rock)," he said. Brown nodded in agreement.

Danny LaPointe, 8, learned a potential trivia answer during the clusters program. In addition to knowing that diamonds are the hardest mineral, Danny now knows about its counterpart.

"Talc is the softest," he said Monday.

Down the hall, in parent Mary Anderson's cooking cluster, students were enjoying desserts. During the month-long program, students prepared each course of a full meal, Anderson said, including salads, entrees and -- as the finale -- chocolate-coated pretzels with candy toppings.

Those, of course, were a hit.

"These are my favorite!" said 9-year-old Deena Brown, holding up a plastic bag full of the treats. "Because I like pretzels, and I like chocolate."

Third-graders in the cooking cluster received their own cookbook, Anderson said. The children learned how to make foods such as dinner-roll-pizza and apple crisp from scratch.

"There is nothing in the class that I prepared," Anderson said.

Anderson learned a little culinary creativity, too. When students weren't very enthusiastic about the salad course -- although "everyone ate a ton of veggies," she said -- Anderson had to find a way to make that week's cluster exciting.

"I threw in root beer floats to spice it up," she said.

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