A Successful Experiment in Poetry

A Successful Experiment in Poetry

George Ladd's science poetry contest for Mass. schoolchildren marks its 10th anniversary

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

A science poetry contest launched by Prof. George Ladd (LSOE) has marked its 10th year, encouraging schoolchildren to wax poetic over stars, DNA, Newton's Law of Motion, and the ecology of a prairie dog town, among other topics.

The annual Massachusetts Science Poetry Contest for grades 2-6 has drawn an estimated 50,000 entries from Bay State schoolchildren over the past decade. Prize categories include Most Original Poem, Most Humorous Poem, Most Expressive Poem, Best Cooperative Poem and Best Long Poem.

Ladd with some of the art that accompanies the poems: "Each year we receive more and more poems in different languages, yet the creativity of children comes through with the limited vocabulary they have to draw from."
Ladd said he got the idea for the contest from a small-town schoolteacher in western Massachusetts he observed reading science poetry to her pupils one Friday afternoon.

"In a conversation after school, she revealed that she did this every Friday and the children loved it," Ladd recalled. "On my drive home I came up with the concept of having students writing and illustrating their own poems."

Ladd has enlisted undergraduates in his Science Methods class to judge the thousands of entries that arrive each year. "We are continually blown away with the voices of children that reflect their thoughts," he said.

"Each year we receive more and more poems in different languages," he said, "yet the creativity of children comes through with the limited vocabulary they have to draw from. Their sketches often reveal as much or more about their thoughts as do their words. We hear stories from teachers and families about how 'they never dreamed so -and-so had such talents' has come out to shine . "

Contest entries display the curiosity and creative flair of children as young as 7 mulling the wonders of photosynthesis, rainbows and the life cycle of the chicken.

First-grader Shannon Briggle of the Sweetsir School in Merrimac rhapsodized about nature thus:

In the world an important thing is nature.
It can be our every-day teacher.
Some people like to take a nature walk
So they can hear nature talk.
Wind whistles, snakes hiss, birds sing.
Water has a sound of soft flowing.
You can learn a lot about nature
When you go on an adventure.

And seventh-graders Patrick Logan and Christopher Mandtis-Lornell of the Wing School in Sandwich got creative in their ode to "Deoxyribonucleic Acid":

In the form of a
twisted ladder
You're a
Piece of matter
In the chromosomes of
Cells' nucleus
You direct cell
Activities in
All of us
Inside you
Exists a double handrail
Without sugar and
Phosphate it'll fail
Between these rails
Exist nitrogen stairs
Each stair is matching chemical pairs
Guanine pairs with
Cytosine and
Thymine with Adenine
By Rosilind Franklin it was
First discovered
Later Watson and Crick further
At last the mystery of our genetics slightly solved
Someday the mystery will be completely resolved.

Ladd, who said his favorite poems are "far too many to mention," said the creative charge of the children's poetry is contagious even to a judge on the other end of a mailbox.

"While I can't be in the classroom during the generation of the poem or in the home when the drawing occurs," he said, "I am able to watch the faces of my undergraduate students as they review the poems and discover that young children have fantastic minds."

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