SUNY Buffalo State students in Robin Harris’ service-learning class, Literacy for Teaching Science, spent the semester working with the Community Academic Center (CAC) to teach lessons in science to neighborhood students of all ages.
Harris, an associate professor of science education, said that working with the CAC offers her students an opportunity to connect what they learn in class to the real world. Each student created an inquiry-based science lesson plan for a one-hour science lesson with CAC children.
This task proved to be a challenge and a reward. The CAC serves children of all ages who are from diverse cultural backgrounds. “One little boy didn’t speak any English at all,” said Kirby Coffman, a senior majoring in elementary education with a concentration in science. Sarah Franklin, a graduate student pursuing an M.S. Ed. in science education, said “This experience points out things you don’t think about when you’re deciding to be a teacher. In addition to the way we teach the material, we have to consider how to keep everyone’s attention.”
Coffman and Franklin agreed that the best way to keep students involved was to incorporate a hands-on element in the lesson. Coffman’s lesson focused on simple electronic circuits and students were instructed to attach a series of wires, bulbs, and batteries in order to light the bulb. One student requested to take the materials home for further experimentation. “That gave me a great feeling,” said Coffman. “Obviously the lesson made him want to learn more.”
This is more than a learning experience for the Buffalo State students involved. It is a chance for children in the community to begin to ask scientific questions. At one of these lessons Lydia Sobczyk, pursuing an M.S. Ed. in physics, planned to explore magnetism. The day of Sobczyk’s lesson, the only student present was a girl about seven years old. “I designed my lesson plan for an older group of children,” said Sobczyk. “I had to adapt to my audience.”
Under Sobcczyk’s guidance, the girl investigated magnet strength, polarity, and other properties. The young girl’s interest was obvious. She proudly reported information she mastered. She and Sobczyk learned from each other as they embodied the CAC’s mission to facilitate youth education on Buffalo’s West Side in collaboration with Buffalo State.