By: Erin Moore—
Ball State assistant professor of biology Dr. Rona Robinson-Hill and her pre-service science teachers are wrapping up their third semester of the “Training Future Scientists” (TFS) program at Muncie’s Roy C. Buley Center and the YMCA of Muncie’s Apple Tree Child Development Center. The TFS program, which engages K-5 students in after-school programs in “hands-on, minds-on” science activities, was developed by Dr. Hill to provide supplementary science instruction and increase diversity in the science field, while giving Ball State students the chance to develop and deliver science curriculum in a real-world learning environment.
The TFS program was originally created as a part of Dr. Hill’s doctoral research at University of Missouri in St. Louis. As a science researcher for more than 20 years and an educator in a gifted public secondary school in Missouri, she observed two facts that fuel her work. First, she was often the only African-American performing research. Second, children have a great capacity to understand and love science, but many students in public schools receive very little science instruction.
Upon her arrival in Muncie in 2015, Dr. Hill sought out opportunities to duplicate and extend the program she created at the Boys & Girls Club of Greater St. Louis. She partnered with Qiana O’Neal-Clemens and in Fall 2015 launched the first round of the TFS program in Muncie at the Buley Center and Diana Badger at Apple Tree.
Twelve Ball State students taught twice-weekly science lessons over the course of one month to more than 50 children at the Buley Center and more than 75 students at Apple Tree. Pre- and post-tests showed that the students’ knowledge of science doubled as a result of the TFS program.
“My students were shocked at these results, especially because the instruction didn’t take place in separate, quiet classroom spaces,” explains Dr. Hill. “At least one or more classes were held together in a gymnasium setting, where noise was definitely a challenge. But the kids still soaked up the content and retained it over the six-week program. And my students experienced real success with teaching science before they graduate.”
Dr. Hill returned to the Buley Center & Apple Tree with a new group of pre-service teachers in Spring 2016. And again, the children performed well on the post-tests and the pre-service teachers expressed an increased confidence in teaching.
“The children at Buley love science. As soon as the TFS program began, we immediately noticed an intellectual spark in our students,” said O’Neal-Clemens.
“The TFS program supports the mission, philosophy and curriculum of Apple Tree,” said Badger. “Working alongside the pre-service teachers gives our teachers a unique chance to improve their approaches to teaching science to the school age children in our center.”
Future plans include a three-week summer camp at the Buley Center, enhancements to Apple Tree’s existing science curriculum, and the development of a Ball State science internship program for underrepresented high-school students at Muncie Central.
While each iteration of the TFS program has its own unique elements, they are united by Dr. Hill and her students’ belief that all children can “do science,” regardless of their ethnicity or socioeconomic status.
Erin Moore, is with the Ball State Office of Community Engagement