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DaVinci Academy creates museum featuring projects, fossils

Students use technology, hands-on activities to show Georgia Performance Standards to community

POSTED: October 21, 2011 1:51 a.m.
SARA GUEVARA/The Times

Hayden Shedd, 12, a seventh-grader, explains the set-up of a typical Neolithic pit burial to Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle Thursday during a visit to the "Footprints in Time" exhibit at the Museum of Inspired Learning at DaVinci Academy. The skeleton used in the exhibit is real, however, this skeleton is from the 1880s.

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Marilou Downs, 13, and Melissa Hernandez, 12, spent Thursday morning teaching the public that hair dye isn't always a good choice.

"Even though you may look pretty, we're trying to teach people about the dangers of hair dye," Downs said.

The two had a video they created along with research and an interactive display showing why chemicals such as ammonia were bad, while foods with protein were good, for hair.

"Water, if it's on your hair and you're out in the sun, will bleach it ... But if you just drink water, that's fine for your hair," Hernandez said, explaining how hair changes color in the summer.

The demonstration was part of DaVinci Academy's first Museum of Inspired Learning exhibit this year, where students must use technology and hands-on activities to show one of their Georgia Performance Standards to the community.

The museum concept came about several years ago, but a full-fledged museum has only been around for three years, said Cindy White, a teacher at DaVinci and museum curator.

"We have two museums. One is the main one. We rotate grade levels and they build and create a standards-based museum," White said.

The first exhibit this year, "Elements of Change," is put on by the eighth grade.

Andrew Hathcock, 13, decided to showcase how energy can change forms. His group's exhibit features a fan-powered mechanism and a demonstration of how a solar light can power a toy to make noise.

"We're really into this sort of stuff, the mechanics and electricity of it all," Hathcock said.

Amanda Rockenbach, 14, had a slightly different approach. She chose to investigate how leaves change colors - or, rather, how they don't.

"A lot of people don't know that leaves don't change," she said. "In the summer, leaves are green because plants use photosynthesis ... But in the fall, they can no longer have photosynthesis."

Thus, the chlorophylls, molecules that allow plants to turn light energy into food, are no longer needed. The leaves "change" from green to various shades of red, yellow, orange and brown, but in reality, those are the leaves' actual colors.

"When they lose the chlorophyll, they reveal what they really are," she said, adding trees such as pines are different because they can do photosynthesis year-round.

Rockenbach said it was a similar phenomenon to a black marker. If the marker pigment is dipped in water and allowed to break down, the pigment is revealed to be not black, but a combination of reds, blues and yellows.

The second exhibit, located in the annex next to the main museum room, is brand-new this year.

Featuring a Neolithic burial pit with an authentic human skeleton, a one-of-a-kind Triceratops skull casting and various other fossils of man, Ice Age animals and dinosaurs, "Footprints in Time" centers around DaVinci's star attraction — Tinker the juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex.

"I'm so excited that it's here," said Ethan Price, 13, an eighth-grade member of the school's Tinker Team that worked with Gainesville State College professor Steve Nicklas to get the dinosaur to the school.

Pieces of Tinker's skull, jaw, vertebrae and teeth were on display as part of the exhibit. One jaw section has a tooth from another T-rex, demonstrating the species was cannibalistic, Price said.

"We were just very lucky," Nicklas said at the unveiling Thursday. "You'll be the first people to see it laid out like this."

The annex exhibit, a partnership with Gainesville State, was Price's dream.

"In sixth grade I went to Ms. White about starting a fossil room. It started out as some random items and last year it got a bit more organized," he said.

The annex is in a former lunchroom.

"We've done a few things to jazz it up a bit," White told visitors at the unveiling. "We had some lunchroom racks in there that I'd confiscated and just some like, bee's nests, my stuffed fox that a parent gave me, anything I could find."

Put together with the rest of the Tinker Team, Nicklas and White, along with plenty of teacher and parent volunteers, "Footprints in Time" and the main exhibit mean a lot to the DaVinci community.

"What we're witnessing is the opportunity, a pathway for kids to get an education environment they couldn't get anywhere else," said Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, a South Hall Middle School and Gainesville State alumnus present to see the museum.

"You're not only making Hall County proud but you're making the state of Georgia proud when you're doing this ... This today is really a culmination and a celebration of something very unique and very special."



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