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elementary kids teaching college kids

Kids go to College

Bringing the Classroom to Campus: Elementary students teach and learn science at U-Idaho

By Tara Roberts     Photos: Geoff Crimmins, Moscow-Pullman Daily News; College of Education

A group of Moscow elementary students recently strapped on safety goggles and turned on Bunsen burners in a University of Idaho lab for a hands-on chemistry lesson.

Under the guidance of chemistry instructor Daniel Stelck, they created colorful flames by burning the same salts used in fireworks, made nylon strings and used lab techniques to separate colors from mixed food colorings.

girl with paper cup to her earThe fourth- and fifth-grade students traded a day off from school for a day on campus that also included learning about mechanical engineering and biodiesel – and doing some teaching themselves.

Sixteen students from Lulu Stelck’s Gifted and Talented class at Lena Whitmore Elementary demonstrated their knowledge of inventions and inventors to curriculum and instruction assistant professor Brant Miller’s Science Methods course for future elementary- and middle-school teachers. Rather than simply presenting their work, the young scientists helped the college students make their own discoveries using the same inquiry-based learning techniques that guide them in Stelck’s classroom.

Despite their age differences, the elementary school students were comfortable with the college students as they jointly tested string-and-cup telephones, experimented with methods for playing a record and brainstormed ideas for their own inventions.

“It’s always one thing to learn a subject, but when you have to present it and teach it, you learn it at a different level,” Stelck says.

Miller says he likes his college students to connect with a variety of students and resources in the community, giving them experiences they can use in their future classrooms.

“I like to send future teachers on their way with a wealth of activities and ways to think about teaching science,” he says.

Miller says the close connections between the University of Idaho and the local community make it easy forteachers and students doing science experiment professors and scientists to work together to expand science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education.

“As we explore different applications to STEM education, having a strong partnership with the Moscow School District will allow us to promote those innovations in a timely fashion and lead to expanding them statewide, nationally and internationally,” he said.

The University of Idaho’s recent STEM-focused efforts include appointing a director of STEM Education initiatives, Melinda Hamilton. Hamilton will develop a long-term strategic plan for STEM education and research at the University, among other goals.

Daniel Stelck said bringing kids to campus gives them opportunities to work with equipment and resources they can’t access in an everyday classroom, and it helps them form a relationship with the university.

“It gives them experience,” he said. “They’ve been here, they’re familiar with the campus now.”

The most popular activity in the chemistry lab was coating pennies in zinc and a zinc-copper alloy, making them appear silver and gold.

Fourth-grader Zazen Matossian expertly heated her pennies over a Bunsen burner, then grinned at the final product in her purple-gloved hand.

“It’s awesome. I love chemistry,” she said. “I want to be a chemist when I grow up.”