While you may not remember much about your fifth-grade book report or recall the joyous epiphany of fractions, odds are that your memory of your first science experiments are much clearer. Volcanoes? Slime? Elephant toothpaste?
When we put what we learn into action, the learning sits deeper in our memories. For some, it also ignites a passion for science, technology, engineering, and math. That's why faculty, graduate students, and teachers have been spending their Saturdays helping kids explore science and math while conducting College of Education research critical to the growth, improvement, and effectiveness of teaching practices.
For five weeks every spring and fall in the Saturday STEM series, Hasan Deniz, director of the UNLV Center for Mathematics, Science, and Engineering Education, and his team share their passions for science and math. The students, ranging from kindergartners to eighth graders, explore STEM subjects in a variety of non-traditional learning formats, introducing them to interesting and exciting opportunities for additional study and potential careers.
From Dread to Delight
Mathematics professor Carryn Bellomo Warren is mom to second-grader Caleb, who is enrolled in the Bee Bot Robotics session this spring. She stressed, “When it comes to introducing children to anything science related, the sooner you get them involved, the better.”
From robotics- and mathematics-themed escape rooms to engineering can crushers and scavenger hunts, students approach subjects in fun, hands-on ways. Smaller class sizes in highly collaborative spaces provide an exciting environment where they can use their imaginations and shift their attitudes about math and science from dread to delight.
This semester’s participants loved the outside activities on the university’s grounds. Sixth grade student Shiba said, “Looking around the campus and seeing all the things I can do if I go to college is interesting.”
The free program encourages traditionally underserved students to participate, and the demand always exceeds capacity. Registration spaces are allocated via a lottery system and Deniz hopes to continue the program’s growth and outreach.
Students Teach Teachers
In addition to motivating students to explore STEM careers, the Saturday STEM program is a space for faculty and graduate student research.
College of Education professor Merryn Cole encourages graduate students, Maizie Miller and Jake Johnson, who are also high school teachers volunteering their time to the program, to use the curriculum they create for Saturdays to soft launch possible dissertation research. The geoscience- and biology-focused pair lead a lesson on the sun and its relationship with Earth and time. Students built their own sundials and conducted preliminary tests indoors using flashlights. Then they ventured outside to test their timepieces with the sun.
The informal data collected was an important step for both the graduate students and Cole. “I wanted to give them (Johnson and Miller) an opportunity to plan this and get some pilot data. However from my research perspective...instead of focusing on STEM professionals and students implementing STEM, I get to study teachers translating that to an informal setting.”
The three will go on to write a paper on their experiences as teachers providing lessons in the Saturday STEM informal classroom environment.
In the end, STEM Saturdays serve as a test bed for research and education innovations as well as professional development for practicing educators while planting the seed in elementary and middle schoolers in hopes their futures branch into successful STEM careers.