Rep. Tharinger tries his hand with Chimacum science students

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

CHIMACUM — State Rep. Steve Tharinger admits science isn’t his strong suit.

But that didn’t detract from his acting as a co-teacher in a sixth-grade science class this week.

“They are learning about friction,” said Tharinger, a Democrat from the Dungeness Valley.

“I serve in the Legislature, so I know a lot about friction.”

On Tuesday, Tharinger spent two periods in the classroom of Alfonso Gonzalez at Chimacum Middle School, moving from one group to another and asking the students what they learned.

The class met as a lab, where students dragged a block of wood across several different surfaces to judge the effect of friction on that motion.

Tharinger’s visit was part of a state program that matches legislators with schools in their districts in an information exchange between the representatives and the students.

Gonzalez requested Tharinger, who visited the school last year to speak about his role as a legislator, to participate in the co-teaching arrangement “because it is a good way for them to see what is going on in the classroom.”

Tharinger’s absence of science experience wasn’t an issue, Gonzalez said, because the role of the co-teacher is to make sure the students understand the experiments.

Gonzalez told Tharinger that science instruction shouldn’t be separated from other disciplines.

“Kids come in here, and they say the aren’t good at science or they aren’t good at math, but it is my job to change that,” Gonzalez said.

“I want to make it fun so they say, ‘Hey, I can do this.’ If we do that in middle school, they may get interested in science and go beyond the requirements in high school.”

In June, Gonzalez received a $5,000 technology grant from CenturyLink recognizing him for his accomplishments in science instruction.

With this grant and others, Gonzalez has managed to provide each of his students with access to a tech device — either a computer, small laptop or iPad.

Tharinger said “having eyes and ears” in the classroom gives legislators a better sense of what is happening in the schools while they are in Olympia creating budgets.

“We hear so much about how this country is falling behind in science instruction,” he said.

“So it’s good to see great teachers like Mr. Gonzalez involved in getting kids excited about the material.”

Tharinger said education’s effectiveness is quantified in grades and test scores, but that only tells part of the story.

“There is this demand for better metrics for evaluation, but when you come into the classroom, you see it’s about getting kids excited about something,” he said.

“It’s hard for that to be measured in a test. In order to see the success, you really need to experience what happens in the classroom.”


Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or

Last modified: December 04. 2013 7:52PM
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