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Science center offers educational training to summer volunteers

This article appeared in the June 24, 2011 edition of the Davis Enterprise.

By Lisa Justice
Special to the Enterprise

Explorit’s Summer Science Camp has long been known as a fun place for hands-on science exploration.  But for dozens of volunteer Summer Teaching Assistants, it is much more.

The small army of mostly middle and high school students assists Explorit educators with teaching summer camp classes.  Summer Teaching Assistants set up experiments and activities, and provide one-on-one attention to students. 

For these assistants, Summer Science Camp is an opportunity to gain classroom and leadership experience, develop career skills, and continue to deepen their love of science.

In preparation for their role in Explorit’s summer classrooms, volunteers participate in a training course hosted by Explorit.  Topics range from classroom management to methods of science education.  Summer Teaching Assistant Jackson Durham described his training experience as “interesting”, “fun”, and “cool”.

In partnership with Lawrence Hall of Science, Explorit’s recent volunteer training course provided Summer Teaching Assistants with methods for teaching hands-on science.  The group was encouraged to experiment for themselves to build their own understanding of scientific phenomena.

Through individual experimentation and observation, volunteers observed how ice cubes melt differently in fresh and salt water to discover how salt affects water’s density.  Summer Teaching Assistant Fiona McNerney described the experience as “a really cool way to learn science.”

By becoming like students in camp, engaging in experiments, McNerney and other participants prepared for their work as teaching assistants while continuing to broaden their own understanding of the science that affects their daily lives.  McNerney said she wished all science classrooms encouraged students to discover science for themselves in a hands-on way.

Summer Teaching Assistants also took part in role-play activities to become familiar with different classroom situations that might arise and develop appropriate responses.  By observing and participating in three different methods of teaching, volunteers could discover for themselves an effective way of communicating with students.

A mock lesson about sea otters demonstrated Explorit’s method of individual explorations through inquiry.  Educators initiate a learning conversation by asking questions and encourage students to follow up by adding their own questions.

A dialogue ensues with the students leading the conversation just as much as the educators.  This way students can pursue their own specific interests about the topic and make connections with their daily lives and things that are already familiar to them to build a solid understanding of science.

While gaining an introduction to Explorit’s teaching style, Summer Teaching Assistants also developed other professional and life skills.

McNerney said that the training helped her develop skills for interacting with students’ parents as well as teaching techniques.  Such skills could be applicable in a variety of career paths and will help McNerney and other Summer Teaching Assistants as they develop their future careers.

So as Summer Science Camp begins and students explore what is inside a geode or how a maglev train works, volunteer Summer Teaching Assistants are busy discovering new skills and opportunities while becoming tomorrow’s science educators.

Explorit’s coming events:

Summer Camp through Aug 19: Several spaces are still available in the preK-K and 1st-2nd grade sections of Explorit’s Summer Science Camp.  For information about openings, visit http://www.explorit.org/camp or call (530) 756-0191 Monday-Friday from 9-4:30. 

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Explorit Science Center’s 3141 5th St. site is the location for field trips, programs for groups, astronomy club meetings, and Summer Science Camp.  It is also the hub for Explorit’s traveling programs that reach an 18-county region.  The site is open to the public for special events and to groups by reservation. For more information call (530) 756-0191 or visit http://www.explorit.org.

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