Professor adopts middle school science classroom

Jessica PellegrinoGeneral Assignment Reporter 

SCSU professor Catherine Koehler saw a need for more supplementary science education in schools and is meeting this need with the help of her science methods students.

Every Wednesday afternoon, students from Koehler’s class help provide an after school science program for Beecher Magnet Museum Middle School. The program is called Beecher Future Scientists Club, or as Koehler’s calls it, “Little Scientists.”  Through hands-on learning, college students teach middle-school aged students all about science.

“We meet every Wednesday from around 4 to 5 p.m.” Koehler said. “My students prepare science based lesson plans for the group.”

Each week, the club receives a brand new topic from Koehler’s students. The activities vary from week to week. Some examples include worm dissections, paper airplanes and DNA extraction in strawberries.

“Because I have students in my classroom from each of the science disciplines,” Koehler said. “The lesson plans are always unique and diverse. Some weeks the activities are biology based, and the next week we could have a totally different physics activity.”

Koehler’s students are each assigned a week and a group of students. With the observation of Koehler herself, the students lead the group. Each week, the groups change, so Koehler’s students get to know each of the middle-school students.

“Through this program, my students have more exposure to actual teaching environments. They get to deal with classroom management. Though I observe these sessions, my students give each other feedback as well. They help each other. It is a win/win situation.”

One of the struggles Koehler feels her students sometimes face is conceptualizing topics for middle school aged students.

Koehler says, “It’s easier to teach a concept to your peers than to children,” Koehler said.” Breaking down even the easiest topics can sometimes pose a challenge.”

This semester is the sixth semester of the program. Generally, after this program the SCSU students go on to the student teaching portion of their education.

“Science is a very hands on subject to teach,” said Koehler, “so the more experience in a classroom that a student can get, the better they will perform later. Truly educating is about being engaging and also being mindful of the needs of the students.”

The state of Connecticut has been making strides towards the importance of the STEM subjects in education. STEM refers to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

“My research is in STEM education.” Koehler said. “I like the idea of integrating science with math, engineering, or even something like social studies. In grammar school, the focus is on subject integration. Young students learn through being able to associate one thing with the next. As they get older, the subjects are separated. I want to break through that.”

In the future, Koehler would like to see if the hard work of her students is paying off. Eventually, she would like to cross-reference test score information from the middle-school students who participate regularly in the after-school program with those who do not.

The program itself has grown since it was first started three years ago.

“When we first started the program,” said Koehler, “we had maybe six middle-school students who were interested. This semester, we have 25  students. To me, that means it is working. It means that students are telling their friends about us. My students tend to grow very attached to the students they work with. In fact, some of my students who were extremely attached to the idea of working in a high school have decided they want to teach middle school because of this program.”

Koehler hopes the program continues to grow at the path it currently is on.

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