Science and education outreach: A case study of mutual learning between children and young scientists

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Tuesday, 19 January 2010: 9:15 AM
B214 (GWCC)
Lumari Pardo-Rodriguez, SOARS, UCAR, Lajas, PR; and S. Henderson and R. Pandya

Science helps children learn how to think, process information, evaluate and judge situations and make logical deductions – all valuable skills. However, research suggests many students do not have adequate science instruction in their school, in part because of a shortage of science-trained teachers and a lack of resources to support a hands-on science curriculum. This is especially true for schools that serve lower income students and students from under-represented communities. At the same time, many young scientists would welcome the opportunity to participate in science education, because it would enhance their marketability and fulfill a desire to perform community service.

In an effort to address both these issues, undergraduate and graduate students (protégés) from the Significant Opportunities in Atmospheric Research and Science (SOARS) program collaborated with science educators from the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) to create out-of-school learning opportunities for children from two Colorado communities: the I Have a Dream Program of Boulder County, and Casa de la Esperanza of Longmont. Each learning environment was set up as a science fair, with 3-4 different hands-on activities through which groups of 8-10 elementary-aged children rotated. SOARS protégés introduced the activities, guided student investigation, and began and ended the day with a large group discussion that included topics like the nature of science.

In addition to learning atmospheric science, these activities helped children recognize that scientists are “normal” people, and that they could become scientists. A particularly memorable discussion began by asking the elementary students what scientists looks like. They described scientists as middle-aged, bespectacled white men with white coats and messy hair. The children were surprised to learn that the SOARS protégés, most of who are from under-represented communities, were themselves scientists. In fact, feedback from the staff that worked regularly with the protégés included the comment that “many of our kids now want to be scientists.”

The activity also benefited the protégés. They learned to adjust their delivery of scientific ideas and concepts according to audience, practiced inquiry-based use of hands-on activities, and gained experience working with diverse students. Overall, the protégés felt that their communication and teaching abilities improved considerably as they participated in more activities with the kids. Besides the rich learning on translating science, the protégés also gained confidence about their own ability to be scientists.

More interactions between scientists and children are needed. Giving the opportunity to young scientist to create these interactions would assure us that the gap between science and society would be smaller as these students continue their careers. The world's future relies on our children and youth and helping them learn new skills through science could open the way