A new course at Rice University is providing students with leadership experiences by having them teach science at a local elementary school.
Taught by Carolyn Nichol and Carrie Owens from the Rice Office of STEM Engagement, LEAD 238 STEM Outreach: Intro to Civic Science is an elective that is bringing science to Sinclair Elementary. At the beginning of the semester, Sinclair was lacking one of the four-person teams that teaches fourth grade, and as a result, Rice students were able to get into these classrooms to teach science.
The fourth-grade students were instantly excited to have Rice students as teachers, as well as to experience science in active and engaging ways. As early as the first visit, students hugged the Rice instructors before they left for the day. Cheers erupted when the students were told they would be having weekly lessons from the university students. The relationships being built by these regular classroom visits enriches both the Rice and elementary students.
The Rice students are working with all of the fourth-grade classes and will teach seven different science lessons by the end of the semester. The course is modeled after UTeach Outreach at the University of Texas, and they shared the lessons they developed to be aligned with the state curriculum. The lessons include fun and messy hands on activities such as testing materials for conductivity, comparing mixtures and solutions, and modeling the water cycle.
Rice students practice the lessons during class time on campus, taking turns being the teacher while the others pretend to be disruptive 9-year-old students. This preparation has been useful, as the Rice students have faced very active fourth graders. When the Rice students called out “Rice Owls” to the class, the young students made the sign of the Rice owl with their hands, repeated the chant and focused their attention on the Rice students.
The STEM Outreach course will culminate with the students offering proposals to address a need that has been observed through the experiences of teaching fourth-grade science. A semester of service learning will certainly encourage Rice students to continue to have a positive impact on the Houston communities. The funding to buy supplies was generously provided by the Rich Family Foundation and the Brown Teaching Grant.