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Discovering Science Anew

A good classroom is one in which the teacher can leave the door wide open, invite the students to leave if they are bored, and still see every seat filled with curious faces, says assistant education professorJen Collins

Regrettably, she says, many aspiring teachers have had the love of science beaten out of them by over-reliance on textbooks. Students may feel confident of their content knowledge but entertaining the idea of leading an elementary class through a science lesson can be scary for aspiring teachers in the Cato School of Education.

Or, at least, it was.

Now, students in the Science Methods class are reminded "how much fun science is" and given opportunities to share that enthusiasm with the trained science educators on staff at Discovery Place.

"It all comes down to authentic engagement," Collins says.  Working with a Discovery Place educator as a mentor, Queens' students create a lesson encouraging hands-on exploration of life sciences or perhaps energy and matter to offer young museum visitors.  As Collins sees it, "if you can hook them there for five minutes, just think what you can do in your classroom!"

The new partnership with Discovery Place doesn't just help Queens' students. It's also an opportunity for Discovery Place staff "to interact with intellectually stimulating community partners," says Gábor Zsuppán, manager of (In)Formal Education for Discovery Place.  The students and educators discuss praxis, observe one another in action, and develop approaches that can work in the museum's short-term contacts and more extended outreach programs, as well as in the students' future science classrooms.

Interacting with the Cato School students helps stimulate the educators' creativity, while allowing the students to marry both formal and informal science education, Zsuppán adds. "Since our work bridges the two approaches, teachers are able to really think about how to utilize techniques and approaches that get kids excited about learning science to create measurable learning outcomes."

Both Collins and Zsuppán see science as a great tool for educating kids about critical thinking. "Instead of creating an atmosphere of cookbook labs that teach kids how to follow directions and not much else, students need to have opportunities to engage in inquiry to pursue their own questions," Zsuppán says.

According to Collins, "it's amazing the conversations kids can have if you get out of the way."  She's willing to explore fresh approaches, outside of the Queens' classroom, to help students learn to foster that curiosity.  "That's the kind of teacher we want to develop here at Queens."

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