Fostering science interest among sixth-grade students using engaging, inquiry-based activities at Western Alamance Middle School (Lead PI: Jennifer Uno)

Fostering Science Interest Among Sixth-grade Students Using Engaging, Inquiry-based Activities at Western Alamance Middle School
Students Reached:  20 sixth grade students, 26 undergraduates
Lead Researcher: Dr. Jennifer Uno, Elon University
Lead Teacher: Ms. Susan Dixon, Western Alamance Middle School

26 undergraduate students, led by Dr. Jennifer Uno of Elon University, worked with 20 sixth-grade students, taught by Ms. Susan Dixon, at Western Alamance Middle School in North Carolina. This program built on an existing partnership between Ms. Dixon and Dr. Uno. The undergraduate students led hands-on lessons over three class visits to the Western Alamance Middle School. The content taught by the undergraduate students was related to the Human Physiology course they were currently taking, and involvement in this program fulfilled a service learning requirement for the class. Service learning opportunities, such as this one, help better develop the communication skills of volunteers while enriching the academic experience of the sixth-grade students. Three undergraduates who enrolled in the course last semester returned as teaching assistants to help with this year’s program. Dr. Uno, Ms. Dixon, and the teaching assistants helped undergraduates design and adjust their lessons to be appropriate for a sixth-grade audience. Ms. Dixon determined the schedule of events and ensured in-class implementation went smoothly.

The lessons each lasted 70 minutes, and so the undergraduates had to design very targeted sessions. The activities covered included a heart puzzle with a discussion of heart anatomy and blood pressure; blood typing and a discussion about antigens and antibodies; a play on a glow-germ activity, where students thought more about how pathogens can spread and the structures of bacteria and viruses; an introduction to actin, myosin, and protein interactions through a class play; and pedigree analysis and neuron building activity to introduce genotyping and neural function within Huntington’s disease. Learning by the sixth-grade students is currently being examined using before and after questionnaires. The performance of undergraduate students was assessed by surveys and their performance on exams in the Human Physiology course.

Sixth-grade students were engaged during these lessons and enjoyed having the undergraduate students in class. Students who experienced this program last year were more prepared and performed better during their seventh-grade human biology class. 100% of the undergraduate students said they enjoyed this volunteer experience, and 20 of 26 said they are interested in participating in future outreach activities. 30% of the sixth-graders and three of the Elon undergraduates were from groups underrepresented in STEM, and approximately 20% of the sixth-graders were from low income families.

ASBMB HOPES funding was used to purchase the equipment needed for the proposed experiments and demonstrations. This class will continue to be run in the future, as Dr. Uno continues to teach Human Physiology and Ms. Dixon to teach sixth-graders, and as funding allows.