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Ball State Students Show All Children Can Do Science
Indiana Ag Connection - 08/08/2018

Every Fall and Spring semester, about 150 Muncie children are busy learning science after a full day of school.

In one lively room at the Boys & Girls Club in the Roy C. Buley Community Center, Ball State elementary pre-service students Brooke Miller and Katie Kane teach first-graders about habitats, as the children point to pictures in a book and describe animals in different climates. At another table, Courtney Byrer, Rachel Moore, and Jenna Parsons instruct second-graders about mass and density. The trio have children pour various liquids into a beaker to see how lamp oil, rubbing alcohol, vegetable oil, water, dish soap, corn syrup, and honey form layers.

Professor Rona Robinson-Hill said it is important for Ball State education students to interact with children from different backgrounds while they are still in school.

"All children can learn," said Rona Robinson-Hill, assistant professor of science education in the College of Sciences and Humanities' Department of Biology.

Hill, who likes to emphasize "can" in We Can Do Science, mentors Ball State students for the immersive learning experience. Aspiring teachers create and implement lesson plans for K-5 students in after-school programs at the Boys & Girls Club in the Buley Center and at YMCA's Apple Tree Child Development Center.

The agencies serve children enrolled in Muncie Community Schools, where almost 40 percent of students are an ethnic minority and almost 80 percent receive free or reduced-price lunch. Through We Can Do Science, they receive science education they might not have otherwise. Pre- and post-tests show promising results: Kindergartens who scored 25 percent on the pretest before We Can Do Science scored 92 percent afterward. A sixth-grader who got no answers right scored 62 percent afterward.

For aspiring teachers, the experience helped them overcome fear about educating students whose backgrounds are different from theirs, both in terms of ethnicity and socioeconomics, Hill said.

Ball State students said they learned that there is more to teaching science than imparting knowledge. Elyssa DeAngulo and Katie Irving, elementary education majors who worked with third-graders, said the experience taught them flexibility and understanding the need to adjust if a lesson does not go as planned.

"It keeps us on our toes," Katie said.

"It definitely helps," Elyssa said. "At first, I was nervous. I was not sure what I was getting myself into. But I have enjoyed it. I enjoy the dynamic with the kids and getting to know Muncie."

"There is more to Muncie than it gets credit for," Katie added.

Hill, who had a long career in research and secondary education before coming to Ball State in 2014, said it is important for education students to interact with children from different backgrounds while they are still in school. If teachers are afraid or believe they cannot teach low-income children, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. We Can Do Science helps aspiring teachers overcome that obstacle.

"The first day, they are petrified," she said. After Ball State students complete the experience, "the fear is gone. They are empowered. They have confidence. They do not give up."

Growing up in St. Louis, Hill herself did not have a science class until she was a sophomore in high school. So how did she get into science? "I think it was God," she said. "It was always in me to like it."

She earned her bachelor's in biology before earning her master's and doctoral degrees in science education. Her research interests focus on providing science instruction to the underrepresented students in grades K-5, and she is committed to We Can Do Science continuing for the long term. During the Summer, she leads the Training Future Scientist (TFS) Ambassador Program, where underserved high school and Ball State undergraduate students assist professors with research.

Educating students is a calling, she said. "I heard a voice that said, 'I need you training my people.' It had to be the Holy Spirit."

Elyssa DeAngulo summed up the benefits of this kind of training: "It's a great experience for anyone who goes into education. It teaches you how to teach science."

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