Reed sophomore Evan Vickers helps sizth graders Frances Bitello and Kiva Oken deviese an experiment to catch their Microbe Man.
Back in Lehman's fifth grade classroom, all 23 students are busy creating comic strips with pencils and markers showing how they will find out what they want to know about Microbe Man. One boy has decided to spray paint around the room to create his silhouette. A few seats away, a girl wrinkles her nose. "Maybe he's a she!" she says. Her comic shows the entrance to the boys' bathroom (blue) and the girls' (pink). She's put wet paint on the floor in front, to see which Microbe "Man" chooses. The classroom is humming with ideas, the Reedies peering over shoulders, offering technical advice and comments such as "Awesome! Great job!"

The students are engaged, the Reedies are in their element, and the teachers are pleased, but verifying the effects of the program objectively is another story. "Measurable outcomes?" asks Kaplan. "That's difficult."

Still, somewhere on the order of 3,000 public school children have been exposed to aspects of biology and the scientific process at an early age. Teachers report that when some of the elementary school pupils who have now been through several years of the program reach middle school, they are far more savvy and self-assured about science than their peers. "It's a night and day difference between the kids who've been through it before and those who haven't," says Day. "The ones who have see themselves as scientists already. They become the leaders in the classroom."

Best of all are stories like this one told by Verstegen. "We had one little boy at Rieke who was struggling hard in virtually every area. But when the Reed program started, he got hooked on science. Now his hand is up all the time to be called on, and he started taking books out of the library on science. He became excited enough to read about it, and then he was reading without even noticing. That's what you want to see."

Maya Muir is a freelance writer in Portland. Her last article for Reed was on geologist Clarence Allen '49 in the November '99 issue.

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