By Erik Moore
As a Biological Systems Engineering college student I spend most of my time in labs or working on fluid mechanics homework. I have spent countless hours and vast amounts of energy learning about the increasingly difficult courses in engineering. It go to the point that this opportunity, to inspire second and third grade students to learn math and science, was gladly welcomed. I have had some experience working with younger children; I worked at a summer camp for the mentally challenged for two summers. While this experience was valuable it was not nearly as rewarding as being able to teach these young, impressionable students about science. I strongly believe that we as Americans and the world must get more students involved in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) majors because they are what shape the world we live in. This was a great opportunity for me to step into unfamiliar territory and teach younger students what I love, math, science, and engineering.
Fortunately I was able to attend every one of the classes that was put on for this club, along with Jessica. This dramatically helped us make the students feel more comfortable in the classroom and helped the next TLTE student that was teaching develop their class plan. While I do not think that I could teach a classroom of 7 and 8 year olds all by myself, having Jessica there every week and the TLTE students to take control of the class was great. These college students, who are professionals at dealing with young children, allowed me to simply teach the students, and not have to try and regulate the class. With this dynamic in the class I feel that I was really able to connect individually with many of the students. Also being in the class every week I was able to understand the learning methods of each of the students and that allowed me to cater to their different styles.
We taught electricity to mostly second graders and as most of us know, electricity is not a simple topic. It is pretty hard for me to fully understand electricity, let alone put it in words that second grade elementary students would understand. With the help of the TLTE students, I was able to tell them what I knew and they were able to put it in terms that the younger students could understand. After a few classes I learned what types of material would be beneficial to the students and what ideas would go right over their heads. Once we were done with every class before the students left for the day I had them tell me something they learned that day. I thought that would be a good way for the younger students to recall the information that we had given them and maybe apply it to different situations. A really neat example was the next week after a lesson when one of the students completely understood how and why electricity moved through wires. She was also able to explain to me in terms that I would use what conductors and insulators were and how they worked. Knowing that she actually took something home from the class and remembered it a week later made me believe that she was really making a connection with the subject.
My biggest goal, and why I really tried to get involved in this outreach as much as I possibly could, was to truly inspire these students and get them curious about science. For the most part we had students that were very interested. They were convinced that I was a scientist and that made it very easy for me to grab their attention when I was trying to teach. I do not think they looked at me like a teacher as much as they did the TLTE students which allowed myself to connect with them on a different level. There was one student in particular that did not have much interest in school and was always off task. For the final project we were able to get him involved and eager to learn by having him run around the gym as part of the experiment. We did this before we took his ECG measurements to show him how his heart activity changed from the physiological stress of his exercise. At the end of the last class almost every single one of the students said they would like to go into a STEM field one day. This was great for me because I did not think that they would be as interested in science as they were. I know I was not that interested in science at their age, and the fact that they are is great for our future.
A really interesting aspect that I had not considered that the TLTE students and their professor introduced to me was that being a male in the classroom made a considerable difference on how the students responded to my teaching. I had several male teachers throughout my grade school years and did not think anything of it, but after it was brought up I certainly noticed the difference. The students definitely had an interest in what I had to say almost whenever I spoke. While I think there are a number of reasons for this, such as them viewing me as a professional in this field and not having to control the classroom, being a male in a classroom where they often do not have as many males and teaching them science made an impact on their learning.
Through this experience I was able to learn about a much different profession in teaching and how engineering can still be applied. I was also able to observe the TLTE students interactions with the younger students and learn what the most effective ways were to teach and communicate with them. From this experience I’ve learned I would love to find a profession that allows me to work with younger children, and if I pursue medicine perhaps being a pediatrician would fit perfectly.