Real Science for Real Student: The Scientist in the Classroom Program
by Sarah P. Collier, 2013 Teaching Certificate Recipient and 2012-13 SoTL Scholar
Staff from the Scientist in the Classroom Program (SCP) led a fantastic morning session during the CFT’s Celebration of Teaching on Friday, May 3rd. The SCP is one of nine programs offered by the Vanderbilt Center for Science Outreach, which works to unite scientists and K-12 teachers and students, as well as parents and the local community. In the SCP, graduate fellows from Vanderbilt University, Meharry Medical College, Tennessee State University, and Fisk University are partnered with exemplary K-12 teachers in the area to promote science education and awareness within and beyond the classroom. The fellows help the teachers incorporate more science in their lessons, while the teachers help the fellows learn effective teaching practices.
During the session at the Celebration of Teaching, Dr. Virginia Shepherd, director of the Vanderbilt Center for Scientific Outreach, described three significant outcomes the SCP program has on students in the classroom: “The kids love the program and eagerly anticipate this day each week. We’ve observed an increase in attendance as well as a decrease in disciplinary issues on days when the scientist is in the classroom.” Additionally, students go home expressing their enthusiasm for science, opening significant doors to promote much needed science awareness and advocacy in the community. Science becomes more accessible when students demonstrate to their parents and guardians that science can be fun during open science nights planned by student fellows and teachers.
In addition to its benefits to K-12 students, the SCP provides immersive career training for its graduate student fellows. In surveys, past fellows sing praises of the value and efficacy of this program. One fellow wrote, “This was the single most effective training that I have had in my entire career on how to be a good teacher.” This sentiment was echoed by current fellows who spoke during the session. A Meharry Medical College fellow who participates in a sixth grade classroom describes, “My teacher is an excellent middle school teacher, and I bring the subtle nuances about science content. Together we form an excellent team for our 55 students.” Whether the fellows are planning careers in K-12 or post-secondary education, they benefit from the hands-on teaching experience and the practice of reflective teaching. One might worry that all the time in the classroom might have a negative impact on the fellows’ research, but Dr. Shepherd noted that the SCP fellows tend to graduate on time or ahead of schedule, thanks to effective time and project management in their laboratory work.
For more on the program, including information on participating as a graduate fellow, visit the Scientist in the Classroom website.