This project is a chemistry course in partnership with Westside Achievement Middle School to share STEM field curriculum and sharpen pedagogical practices. Students from Rhodes developed a learning package that they will then share with young science students from the middle school in order to foster an experiential exchange that both partners benefit from.
This project resulted in a novel course for students who were for the most part majoring in chemistry or biology and were interested in exploring the area of teaching. These Rhodes students worked alongside middle school science teachers at Westside Achievement Middle School in Frayser TN, to incorporate fun and innovative science lessons into their curriculum. Currently, there are no courses for chemistry majors to receive F11 credit in their discipline, and few science-related F11 courses in general; this course provided needed F11 opportunities for our students. Dr. Brian Coppola, a leading figure in chemical education and a mentor of Professor Horgen’s, always said “real work is better than homework.” His perspective is that by giving students assignments that matter they will take their work more seriously and engage in deeper learning. The partnership of Rhodes students and WAMS science teachers have benefited both schools by engaging and challenging Rhodes students and the middle school students in interesting ways, as well as helping to build a better community between the schools.
The course paired a Rhodes student with a willing (and subsidized through this grant) teacher at WAMS. The collaboration involved regular meetings with the teacher and some opportunities to observe middle school science teaching. The student-teacher pair ultimately chose a topic (which could include lectures, demonstrations or in-class experiments) that the teacher had not had the time or the resources to develop themselves. Through creative assignments and research, Rhodes students developed knowledge about their individual topics. They became masters of their assigned discipline much like a research scientist becomes the master of their research area. The course reading assignments and class discussions aimed at studying STEM field pedagogy at a pre-college level. Combining the in class discussions with the student’s experience/observations, the Rhodes students became well versed in the opportunities to grow with their partner class, and they learned about the methods of transforming the information from their chosen topic into a lesson, as well as the skills and confidence to actually teach the Westside students. At the end of the semester students archived their work into an online portfolio that can be used by other middle school science teachers. The implementation of student portfolios has been shown to have benefits including instilling a more meaningful experience upon the completion of a course. (Dr. John Zubizarreta, Columbia College, Learning Portfolios: Reflective Practice for Improving Student Learning workshop at Rhodes College on August 25th, 2014.)
The Collaborative Chemistry Community project allowed students to have new experiences within a discipline they enjoy and it allowed them to discover that there are more possibilities for STEM field graduates than just doing research in a lab. The course has taken science students out of their typical lecture/lab class setting and placed them in actual practice. Through the online portfolio created by the students, Professor Horgen says she has been able to see how the addition of this reflective practice can enhance the overall education of science majors at liberal arts institutions.