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UIndy students teach science to local children

Posted on 10.09.2013

An old man with crazy white hair and a lab coat is the way some might envision a scientist. The University of Indianapolis students and faculty who are a part of the UIndy Jr-Scientists might not match that description.

As part of a lesson, UIndy Jr-Scientist Justin Wheeler reads to a group of attentive second grade students at Abraham Lincoln Elementary School in Perry Township.

As part of a lesson, UIndy Jr-Scientist Justin Wheeler reads to a group of attentive second grade students at Abraham Lincoln Elementary School in Perry Township.

About 20 to 25 UIndy students teach science lessons to the second grade classes at Abraham Lincoln Elementary School and other places around Indianapolis. Biology, elementary education and other majors are involved in this project.
The group even has their own mascot, Junior the greyhound dog, who is displayed on all their shirts.
The UIndy Jr-Scientists  program began in 2007 with one class and teaching  a few lessons a year. But, as Biology Instructor and Lab Director Mary Gobbett explained, the program has subsequently expanded.
“We currently teach 19 different science lessons during the year to six classrooms at the same time,” Gobbett said. “We have also expanded our program to College Mentors, Children’s Museum DNA and Chemistry Day, and University Heights United Methodist Childrens Center (UHUMCC) day camp and pre-K classes.”
At Abraham Lincoln Elementary, the UIndy Jr-Scientists are teaching science to kids who have no other science education.
Freshman biology major Mallory Traver said that the program can benefit the students in many ways.
“The students get to see what science is and how it affects the world [in which] they live,” Traver said. “I think it’s also pretty cool for the elementary students to see college students get excited about science. It makes them want to learn more.”
Gobbett said that she hopes the program will inspire the children to think about science in a new way and positively add to their educational experience.
“Elementary students love science, and our program teaches students to think like scientists. We are trying to build the foundation of scientific thinking and getting students at a young age excited about science,” Gobbett said.  “Our other outreach opportunities included activities in all areas of science, which complement the science curriculum in elementary and middle school. Our goal in any setting is to get students’ minds engaged in scientific exploration.”
While the program engages the minds of the young students, it benefits the UIndy students as well.
Freshman biology major Caryn Kiel said that her experience has brought back memories and also made her think of her future career in a different way.
“Not only does it benefit my career in establishing appropriate relationships with children—a happy medium between authoritarian and friend—as I am a pre-OT student who wants to work with kids, but I also find myself reflecting on my own childhood. Looking at worms and measuring water volume is fun when laughter and silly questions are involved,” Kiel said.
While the program has a large number of science-related majors, the elementary education students benefit from this as well.
“Hopefully, we are encouraging future elementary teachers to provide opportunities for their students to do scientific exploration,” Gobbett said. “It also allows students of different career paths to work together in a community outreach setting.  It really brings alive education for service.”
Going along with the old adage of teaching for the test, some schools like Abraham Lincoln hold math and English in higher regard. Because of this, they are not able to devote resources to teach subjects like science that are not on state exams.
Gobbett hopes to change this culture as the program expands year after year.
“It is very hard for elementary schools to focus on science when reading and math are connected to their ISTEP scores and the ranking of their school. It is not a high priority for a school like Abraham Lincoln,” Gobbett said.  “We would love to encourage teachers to do science on their own without us, but that may be a few years away.  We would also like to do workshops in the summer for teachers in the future.”
Also, Traver said, giving students scientific education from a young age could give rise to growth in scientific fields
“There are so many opportunities in the science technology engineering [and] mathematics (STEM) field, but not many students are pushed to go into these areas,” Traver said. “I believe if kids were introduced to science at a younger age and were encouraged to use it every day, just like math and English is, we would see a major increase in STEM fields.”
While both the students at Abraham Lincoln and UIndy are increasing their knowledge of science, Gobbett is thinking about what lies ahead for the program.
“We are still experimenting with our lessons and the needs of the community outreach partners.  This is a service project for me, and it has grown about as big as I can handle at the moment,” Gobbett said.  “I am currently part of an Americorp planning grant and we hope to apply for another grant, which would allow us to get several Americorp volunteers to help out with the program.  Our goal is to continue finding funding sources and volunteers to help handle the logistics of the program. The need is there, but it all takes time, people and money.”
The UIndy Jr-Scientists have traveled  to Abraham Lincoln and taught students every Friday so far this academic year, and the students are seeing promising signs of success.
“We seem to be succeeding,” Kiel said. “Considering [that] the students often walk into the classroom, smile at us and say, ‘The scientists are here!’”


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