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UTeach Outreach

UTeach Outreach
The College of Natural Sciences is always searching for new ways to promote greater interest in science and capture the imaginations of students. For more than a decade, the UTeach Outreach program has embodied the college’s commitment to improving science education by bringing university and grade school students together to ensure today’s schoolchildren become tomorrow’s scientists.

UTeach Outreach gives students who volunteer at grade schools, the opportunity to earn college credit in a service learning course. Each semester they apply what they’ve learned from their science coursework to lessons they teach children in grades K-4. “Volunteers fulfill an important need,” explains Mary Miller, the senior program coordinator for outreach initiatives. “They provide fresh, fun, hands-on activities in a creative and non-competitive environment.”

Launched in 1993 as a precursor to the UTeach Teacher Certification Program, the program was the brainchild of Associate Dean David Laude, who thought of the idea while teaching experiential science lessons at his sons’ school. His lessons received such a positive response, he was convinced an expanded program could enrich grade school science curriculum. He was particularly interested in reaching into elementary schools with underrepresented populations. “We started at Becker Elementary in Pat Johnson’s classroom, and eventually it spread from her class, to the entire school and on to many more schools,” Laude remembers. “We received so much interest that now it’s nearly everywhere in Austin.”

Today, the program is one of the college’s most successful outreach initiatives, sending 200 students to more than 200 classrooms in up to 60 Austin-area schools each semester. Intended for students from all majors, some volunteers have never worked with children and lack strong backgrounds in science. Instead, program instructors, schoolteachers and fellow participants provide initial support and direction. “Our students may not come in with teaching experience, but they have a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and always go into the classroom prepared to teach a great lesson,” Miller says.

After being matched with a partner, students team-teach two hours of in-class lessons per week and are required to promote science education for four additional hours during the semester. To satisfy that requirement, volunteers assist teachers with special activities, serve as judges for science fairs and assist with chemistry and physics circuses, which encourage greater participation from parents in the education of their children and give the whole family a chance to learn about science and enjoy exciting experiments.

Over the years, feedback from principals and schoolteachers has been crucial to the program’s evolution and continued success. Most recently, UTeach Outreach began coordinating lesson plans with each school and according to the objectives of Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), the education standard mandated by the state. “We want to make it easy for the schools to participate in the program and obviously, we don’t want full-time teachers to have to put in extra work,” says Miller. “We tailor our lessons to exactly what the schools want and provide our own materials and preparation.”

The overwhelming acceptance of the program by area schools, the support it has received from the community and its impact on everyone involved, is, according to Laude, an example of science outreach done right. “UTeach Outreach is valuable for everyone,” he says.

“College students figure out whether they are interested in teaching, learn that teaching isn’t easy and gain more respect for the profession. Schoolteachers, especially those without strong science backgrounds, get much needed teaching assistance and the opportunity to learn more about experiential science. Finally, it’s enormously valuable and important for children—for many it is their favorite part of the school day and the function our university students serve as role models cannot be emphasized enough.”
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Wednesday, 20 September 2017

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