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Hands-on science clubs are nothing new for our outreach program, but the 1998-99 year saw a huge increase in the number of them. In addition to the clubs at Peace Neighborhood Center and at North Maple Estates in Ann Arbor, five new clubs were established in classrooms during the school day at George Elementary School in Ypsilanti, and the program at Community Church of God (CCoG) Opportunity Center in Ypsilanti was broken down into seven separate, age-specific clubs so as to better match the skill and knowledge base levels of the participants to the planned activities and to embrace the existing structure and staffing there. At Owen School in Pontiac, more children volunteered and were trained as Science Wizards, bringing hands-on experiments into classrooms at teacher request, very capably demonstrating and supervising the activities. In Ann Arbor, Reach Out! University of Michigan (UM) students piloted a summer day camp for youngsters from public housing sites. As always, our goals were to capture and keep children's interest in science through exciting, discovery-based activities. There were 15 Clubs: Community Impact at North Maple Estates, 7 at Community Church of God Opportunity Center, the Peace Neighborhood K-2 club, 5 classroom clubs at George Elementary School, and one home-school group. Overall, an average of 5 volunteers met with an average of 18 participants in a total of 95 sessions. It was an exhausting but productive year!
Every year, we develop a deeper understanding of the process of infusing more hands-on science into children's lives while rebuilding learning communities around them. Just like physical or intellectual development, it is a developmental process with specific stages in a fixed order, which cannot be circumvented or short-circuited.
While we can influence, encourage, and support the other adult stakeholders with whom we work, we cannot make them change. Instead, we are shepherding them through a process. We recognize that we will face the same hang-ups, barriers, and roadblocks at each new site, with some variation due to the varied human elementbut that's okay! Understanding this keeps us from getting discouraged: even though we have been through the same problems repeatedly, each of our collaborators need to go through them, too.
To illustrate, the first year we bring hands-on science to a new site, people have the same concerns: it's too messy, the children are too loud, it looks too much like play and not enough like learning. Their unspoken assumption is that learning happens only in a traditional, orderly, lecture-based, "school-like" setting. There tends to be much more concern with which facts the children are absorbing, rather than with their attitudes and approaches. This is perfectly natural: parents and teachers are worried sick about low achievement test scores.
Our aim, however, is not to improve those scoresit is to teach children how to think like scientists, to be unafraid of science, to have confidence in their own ability to do science. We do not intend for them to go through a traditional science lab experiment, working toward the one right answer or the expected results. Instead, they should be becoming better observers, data recorders, question-askers, and theorizers. They should be thinking about what happens in the physical world and why, about how they might experiment to explore or to demonstrate theories. This process will be messy; it will be excitingand therefore loud; it will end with unexpected or far-from-identical results for different children. And, most importantly, they will be learning a great deal!
After the first year or two, the on-site adults are generally convinced of thisand they close doors against the noise, buy cleanup tools and tarps for the carpets, and look forward to the science fun as much as the children do. This is when the activities themselves can change to the slightly more structured and curriculum-aligned experiments they had expected in the first place. Both adults and children are ready for that, once they have experienced and accept that hands-on also means minds-on, that they cannot just follow a recipe and call it hands-on learning. Both groups will also be ready to continue with less direct guidance from us.
The science program at Peace has been evolving for years, but it seems to have reached a new level this year. Where it once competed with martial arts and computer games for children, who then worked in a cramped space, this year it served all of the K-2nd graders in the largest room at the center. Six to seven volunteers served 19-20 children at each of 13 sessions. Club volunteers learned to choose simpler activities and to prepare more appropriate strategies for the younger group. The one writing-intensive activity was difficult, as the children were simply unable to read and write well enough; on the bright side, seven additional center volunteers (from Eastern Michigan University and from Ann Arbor high schools) pitched in to give the kind of one-on-one help needed. These volunteers eventually mingled, shared in our activities, and helped with cleanupacting like real stakeholders. As always, we learned that the fact of this personal interaction with the children is more important than its content. As one participant put it, "Each week was better as we began to get to know the children and they got to know us." Another said,
|I think that, as college students, we sometimes lose focus on the surrounding people and environment, and programs like this remind us of our duty to help others and keep us in touch with the people of the community.... I also think that sometimes we are very rushed and don't spend enough time with the children or give them enough individual attention.|
We find the participation from other center volunteers and personnel, plus the increased space offered for the program, to be encouraging signs of its acceptance as worthwhile. Coordinator Debbie McCartney, with a core group of friends and Arnold Air Society members, handled the year's activities with practiced aplomb. Things really can go quite smoothly after the initial learning curve!
Plans for Next Year
Next year, this site will be handled by Stephanie Steele, a regular volunteer there this year. She has already recruited her own group of volunteers and is planning specific activities. She is anxious to expand the program toward a mentoring model. Accordingly, we are planning to increase the number of volunteers to allow for each child or pair of children to have the same helper during a homework and basic skills work period before the science activities. It is evident that the children need more help with such skills and concepts; we will try incorporating it within our club framework.
Where once we were very clearalmost dogmaticabout what could and could not bring to a site, we are inevitably drawn from our path to try to meet the needs of the whole child we serve. Time will tell whether this is an evolution toward a better model or another example of our being led astray in our desire to help. We are open to new ideas but wary of taking on more than we can sustain. And it undermines the whole idea of learning community if we allow our volunteers to supplant efforts and assume responsibilities that more properly belong with parents and teachers.
This club was started and run by a UM professor, Bill Schultz, with some advice, assistance with materials, and occasional volunteers from Reach Out! With Prof. Schultz on sabbatical this year, there were many fewer activities and we don't have much detail to report. Four volunteers met four times with 16 children each time last fall. Obviously, a committed coordinator is required for continuous club activity; we hope this club will revive in fall 1999 with Bill's leadership.
Reach Out! staff coordinator Aarti Raheja oversaw the activities at George this year: she solicited 40 volunteers campuswide and 11 from Pi Kappa Alpha; organized them and others from the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives (OAMI); created, adapted, or located appropriate activities; procured materials and equipment; pretested the activity when necessary; and collected feedback from participants for our databases. OAMI provided five student coordinators and volunteers, a university car for transportation, and partial financial support for the program. Participating classrooms were Ms. Williams's and Ms. Winters's 1st and 2nd grades (as a multi-age group), Ms. Brown's 2nd grade, Ms. Archbold's 3rd grade, Ms. Hubbard's 4th grade, and Ms. Bortz's 5th grade. One group alternated serving the Brown and Bortz classrooms; the others met weekly. In each of 41 meetings, an average of 28 children were served.
These enthusiastic volunteers reminded us again just how much more there is to such clubs than just having fun with science. There are at least two other important dimensions to these clubs: continuing relationships allow for (1) evolving and steady improvement in the activities themselves, as we develop, record, and share suggestions, and (2) profound personal effects on both the children participating and the volunteers that would not be possible among strangers. There is also, of course, some incidental influence on the teachers and some generalized change in the perception of the university in the school and in the community.
Additionally, Learning Community Coordinator Sherri Ahearn, before taking a full-time technology position with the school district in August 1998, had trained four junior Science Wizards among George School's students, like those at Pontiac's Owen School. They have been a continuing resource to the school, but there is no one to train successors at this time. Principal Sharine Buddin hopes to hire a parent part-time in 1999-2000 for such duties.
Evidence of Systemic Change
CUOS had provided a halftime staff person at George School to oversee the Science/Learning Community Resource Room, but she was hired full-time by the district in Fall 1998 in another capacity. Although her new job description did allow for continued promotion of hands-on science, she was not able to find a great deal of time to devote to it, given all her other duties. Her enthusiasm, communication with school staff, and consistent organization were missed. Also, given the ongoing renovation of the building, the Science Resource Room was closed for a time and moved elsewhere, and the materials were in some unavoidable disarray for the year. In addition, George School had a new, first-year principal who was understandably preoccupied with many other concerns. Things did not go as originally planned at this site, yet we are thrilled at the development that has taken place. Both CUOS personnel and George staff have gone through some significant changes in attitudes and beliefs.
Originally, we at CUOS had thought that our goal should be to facilitate hands-on science activities by providing lessons and materials and by using a coordinator for a few years to help teachers integrate these activities into their classroom instruction. We specifically did not intend to bring volunteers into the building to run the activities because then it is an "outside program" that is likely to disappear when the volunteers leave. We wanted to demonstrate the ease and effectiveness of doing hands-on science, provide plenty of materials, train teachers to access many more activities on the Internet, and then let them take over.
What with the loss, for most purposes, of our coordinator, we tried to fill the vacuum with a part-time coordinator not on staff in the building (Aarti Raheja, a veteran Reach Out! volunteer and recent UM graduate who agreed to work on stipend for a year before going on to medical school). She engineered a collaboration between Reach Out! and the UM's Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives to bring undergraduates into the building to run weekly science clubs like those we run at community centers outside of school.
This format was born partly of necessity, but it would not have been possible without a shift in attitude: staff members have come to believe that non-certified teachersparents, college volunteers, children themselvescan teach children, and that learning can happen in other than traditional classroom situations. Part of the Learning Community philosophy is that we are all responsible for helping our children learnand they are all "our" children.
We are operating more as a team now, with less friction over invading one another's turf. George teachers now want to do more long-term projects and want to continue hands-on activities after our eight-week programs are through for the semester. They are planning where children could store projects-in-progress, and are thinking of having a Share Fair to showcase such research and experimentation efforts in a noncompetitive way. The Learning Community room has evolved to include a new computer lab and a publishing center along with the science area. These are the areas for which community volunteers are most often recruited, so it makes sense to group them.
Another sign of an emergent learning community at George is the postmortem done on this year's programs. Little time was spent on reviewing what went wrong or how we all feel about not doing as much as we would have liked; instead, the focus was on improving things for next year. This sounds simple but is actually quite profound: when credit and blame issues are minimal, it means you are all working on the same side.
Early in the year, we felt that our purpose was sometimes misunderstood: some teachers thought of our volunteers as like the pre-service teachers in their building from Eastern Michigan University (EMU) who practice methods by designing and teaching their own lessons. Eventually, we believe it became clear that we are partners, facilitating hands-on projects to introduce or reinforce concepts that they are teaching.
It is important to note that tracking of George student participants is not an issue: we do not track their progress because we do not plan to take any "credit" for it. Pursuit of this kind of pseudo-accountability, we strongly believe, distorts, hampers, or even cuts off the process of change in a school. Looking aggressively for "results" during such an evolutionwhich can look quite unimpressive at discrete points along the wayintroduces defensiveness, blaming, and us-versus-them arguments. We are satisfied in knowing that we are on the right track.
Plans for Next Year
We know that we cannot sustain the same level of activity within George School next year, without our UM coordinator (who is now in medical school) or the transportation and materials funding from OAMI. We will return to our original model, as Principal Buddin plans to find funding for a half-time Learning Community Coordinator, who can be mentored by our experienced coordinator in Pontiac. She will be able to oversee the resource room, suggest hands-on activities and materials to teachers to complement their lessons, help older children to teach younger ones (as Science and Technology Wizards), and perhaps help in coordinating the EMU AmeriCorps students in the building. We believe that these students, who do not face the same transportation and transit time barriers as our UM students, may make more natural partners and community members for George School. Another, unexploited category of learning community members is George alumni now in middle school, whose earlier schedule would allow them to contribute at George after they are dismissed in the afternoon. Such genuine stakeholders will stay, given a bit of encouragement and organizational help.
The science club program at the Community Church of God (CCoG) Opportunity Center has been evolving, as well. This past year, it was organized as six separate clubs by age/grade level: K-1st grade, 2nd, 3rd, 4-5th, 5th, and secondary. The intent was to tailor the activities a bit more to participants' abilities and to provide a calmer atmosphere with more individual attention from the same few volunteers in each group. Veronica Cottingham and Reulonda Norman of Reach Out! (with help from CUOS staff member Faye Booker-Logan) coordinated the elementary clubs, with 5 volunteers from the Black PreMed Association, 6 from CCoG, 6 from the PreMed Society, 6 undergraduates from Eastern Michigan University, and a few unaffiliated UM students. CUOS research scientist John Nees and graduate student Fritz Weihe organized the biweekly secondary club. Overall, 2-3 volunteers served an average of 6-7 young people at each of 35 sessions.
Evidence of Systemic Change
The change to several clubs was made possible by the Center's volunteer tutors allowing science activities in their rooms. The Center's organizers used to be more school- and homework-oriented and did not value what they saw as just "play." The science activities were used as a reward for applying oneself to homework. After the tutors were asked to stay on and help out with the science activities, though, we believe they came to enjoy and to value them as learning opportunities, too. Where we once perceived discomfort that there was not a specific enough target outcome to these activities, we think people now understand that that is really the point. If children are to explore and experiment, the outcome cannotand should notbe preordained. For example, when we do a taste-bud-mapping activity, the adults usually ask for an "answer key" showing where on the tongue one tastes sweet, salty, bitter, or sour objects. We never provide one, because the object of the exercise is not to get the "right" answer but to observe and discover particular answers for yourself.
Plans for Next Year
It is difficult to discuss the program at the Opportunity Center in isolation: many of its participants are George and Chapelle School students and George Principal Buddin has been an organizing force behind the Center for many, many years. This is wonderful, of course, because blurred boundaries are also an indication of a true learning community. Since George has just had a computer lab installed as part of a technology bond issue program in Ypsilanti Public Schools, Ms. Buddin is proposing that we move the two Internet-capable computers that CUOS had provided for George over to the Opportunity Center. While great progress had been made over the last two years in installing and getting a lab up and running at the center, plus installing a phone line for Internet connectivity, its donated computers are painfully slow for anything but simple word-processing. We agree that these newer Power Macintoshes could make a real difference at CCoG.
Students from the psychology classes of UM's Prof. Scott Paris will be working at the Opportunity Center, as a practicum course experience. Center organizer Beverly Tyler is also pushing for more long-term projects and promising storage area for these works-in-progress. Beverly, who also teaches at another Ypsilanti elementary school, was a participant in our first Research Experiences for Teachers program this summer. This experience introduced her to the optical science we do here at CUOS, to many research-based theories on teaching and learning, and to a variety of CUOS personnel who can be resources to her and the Opportunity Center in the future. The new volunteers should offer the kind of consistency and stability needed for the planned multipart projects. Also, while the church will continue to pay for university vans to transport volunteers, we are hoping to get CUOS personnel out of the loop of procuring and returning those vans; a church member who works at UM may be able to take over this task. We will be working to transmute our science programs at CCoG into mentoring, including EMU and church folks with us. We will coach and model so as to put ourselves out of a job there, in favor of people from the local community.
Given Owen's substantial distance (well over an hour's drive) from our mostly Ann Arbor-based resources, Learning Community Coordinator Susie Shoemaker conceived the idea of training Owen elementary students as Science Wizards. During the 1997-98 year, she trained three students to lead hands-on science lessons for their peers. She ran the program as a weekly club, during which students explored quite a few activities until each settled on one or two of particular appeal. They then practiced presenting the activities to one another, before taking them to classrooms, where they also acted as assistants to each other. This program was a great success.
For the 1998-99 year, four of the five new Wizards were Title I students, who qualify as "at-risk" students. They began meeting, before school, in January; they explored a dozen activities before choosing their favorites. Each of the five taught all of the third- and fifth-grade classes and all of the Title I students in grades 1-5. Ms. Shoemaker summarized her reaction:
|At the beginning of the year, we were skeptical of whether or not [the Title I students] could do this. They have proven us wrong and they are very much in control of their lesson and the students.... It has been a very successful program for the second year in a row. I have seen proof of this, in grades and attitude in the classroom.|
Two students received the AAA Awardfor Achievement (an A in class work), Attitude, and Attendancefor the second consecutive time. They all grew in confidence, as well as knowledge, and the Title I students especially were seen by both classmates and teachers in a new light. We are only now realizing how much more this kind of participation makes students stakeholders in their learning community. They don't just receive services from othersthey can also be providers.
Additionally, during the second half of 1997-98 (and therefore not mentioned in our last comprehensive evaluation in February 1998), Susie ran a Lunch-Time Science Club for six Title I students. Over several weeks, they built rockets, and much of the school came out to watch the launches. The positive experience with this group is a major reason why the first year's teacher-selected Wizard candidates evolved into mostly at-risk Wizards this year.
Evidence of Systemic Change
The building's Curriculum Leader, Janet Lewis, took it upon herself to incorporate the Wizard program into the Title I plan and to implement it herself this year, with Ms. Shoemaker merely assisting her. While Ms. Lewis's position as Curriculum Leader has been removed at the district level and she will be going into the classroom next year, she would like to continue the program.
Besides the enthusiasm in the building for the Science Wizards program, the librarian has taken over the training of Technology Wizards, who guide other students in using computers and doing research via the Internet. She has also introduced Tech Wizards in the other elementary school where she works.
Owen's Community Resource Room has become integrated into the building, serving as the gathering place for all their science resources, which are being usedboth in the room and checked out for classrooms. Special Education teachers use the resource room with students who are restless, bringing them down to do a science kit with them. For example, they did the salt volcano kit.
|The children made predictions and discussed what actually happened. The students got the materials together and cleaned it all up afterwards. They had a lot of fun.|
The school purchased shelves to hold all the science materials in the entire building in the room. Because things are out on display, usage increased dramatically. One side of the room is science and math materials and the other is all language arts. Mondays the room was used as a lab for classrooms to come and do science; Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday mornings were for Title I language arts and the afternoons were for science and math. Computer usage was available throughout the day by sign-up. The resource room is truly part of the building culture now.
Plans for Next Year
The school's Target Projects for 1999-2000 include a Wizards program in which pairs of Title I students would adopt at least four classrooms and teach lessons supporting the curriculum to their rooms each month. Susie plans to bring the Wizards to campus every month for science enrichment and tours with the scientists she met during the RET program (see section V of this report).
We hope the integration of our programs into the building continues through its complete reorganization for the coming school year, when nearly all the rooms will be reassigned as the student population changes and the building reverts from year-round to traditional scheduling.
When asked to evaluate the club experience, participants repeatedly emphasized the value for the children of caring relationships with young adults and role models. Some of the common themes and lessons of that feedback follow.
Overall Plans for Science Clubs Next Year
We can discern a progression or mutation of our science clubs into more explicit mentoring programs. All of our experiences underline the same lesson: that children need more sustained, adult contact and support. Our science programs are much more effective when the same volunteers work consistently with the same one or two children for several months. The volunteers enjoy it more and are more reliable under these circumstances, and the children have time to get past the getting-to-know-you stage and to reach a trust and comfort level that allows them to focus more on content. Our plans for next year, therefore, emphasize mentoring as much as science fun in the clubs. Before anything else, children need to knowviscerally, through experiencethat they are worth someone's time.
As to specific program changes, we hope to be overseeing new science clubs at the six public housing sites in Ann Arbor. This is a deepening of our collaboration with Mike Conboy and the Serendipity Reading Clubs he has established at these sites. We created a Web site for them in order to assist in recruitment of retired volunteers. Mike selected club participants for the Reach Out!-sponsored Camp Discovery this summer. We hope to serve more as an organizing force, resource provider, and adviserin the person of work-study Debbie McCartneythan an "owner" of these new science club programs. We know how to do this now and are comfortable helping, rather than doing it all ourselves. The objective is to involve more local community members in the learning communities surrounding these centers, with CUOS and Reach Out! supporting the stakeholders in the beginning years.
Science Clubs by the NumbersTwo trends are apparent in the historical data on our science clubs: we are offering more minds-on science activities and many more of them are done within the context of long-term relationships. The same group of volunteers works with the same group of children for an extended period of time. The target for clubs is generally eight meetings per semester and four-six per summer.
As the chart to the right illustrates, our
number of clubs went from 5, four years ago, to 17 this past year. In
1995-96, two were of an extended nature and three met only once or
twice; in 1998-99, 15 (that is, 88% of the total) offered a continuing
personal relationship. We are practicing what we preach about the
importance of such long-term commitments.
Because of this, it is difficult to graph the numbers we are so often asked for. The charts to the left and below are two ways of looking at the same data. The upper one illustrates overall numbers for our hands-on science programs: counting each participant at each session. Since the same groups met several times, however, these numbers can be deceptively high. The lower chart shows numbers of participants when each individual was counted only once, regardless of how often each participated. Since many volunteersand even more childrenwere repeaters, these numbers can be deceptively low. One child, for example, may have participated in a fall-semester club, an after-school community center club, a spring semester club, and a summer club. We are unable to conceive of a clear way to combine both kinds of data, so we've simply put them in two formats. The "truth" lies somewhere in the middle!
|<- Previous Section||Table of Contents||Next Section ->|
|I.||Science Clubs||III.||Career Clubs|
|A. Program Description and Goals||A. Owen School|
|B. Peace Neighborhood Center||B. Slauson Middle School|
|C. North Maple Estates||C. Pioneer High School|
|D. George School|
|E. Community Church of God||IV.||Technology|
|F. Owen School||A. Owen School|
|G. Lessons Learned from Science Clubs||B. Coalition Web Site|
|II.||Mentoring Programs||V.||Research Experiences for Teachers|
|A. Program Description and Goals||A. Things We Learned|
|B. Chapelle School||B. What Comes Next|
|C. Pioneer High School|
|D. The Neutral Zone||VI.||Conclusions and Recommendations|
|E. HOPE Program|
|F. Serendipity Reading Clubs||VII.||Appendix A. Organizational Chart|
|G. Camp Discovery||Appendix B. Partners List|