Wonders of Our World: A Collaborative Science Education Program Between Active Scientists and Elementary School Teachers
Wonders of Our World (W.O.W.) is intended to 1) supplement the existing science programs in elementary schools, 2) bring the excitement of science discoveries into the classroom, 3) increase the science materials that elementary school teachers are comfortable presenting to their students, 4) increase the involvement of local scientists, parents and undergraduate science students in important community projects, 5) generate a pathway that gives school teachers easy access to scientists at Ohio State and other local science enclaves, and 6) establish a model for other scientists to assist science programs in other elementary schools.
Young children are filled with curiosity and the desire to explore the world around them. They naturally act as scientists, but without encouragement and guidance, a child's interest in these explorations often fades in their early scientific experience . The scores on the new State of Ohio, Department of Education 4th-Grade Proficiency Tests are often lowest in the area of science. The 1991 Carnegie Commission documented that 47% of U.S. seventeen-year-olds cannot convert 9 parts in 100 to a percentage and only 7% of high school seniors are prepared for college level science courses.1 Unfortunately, poor performance in science may derail many students' long-term goals. For example, at The Ohio State University, proficiency in freshman-level chemistry is often used by the Allied Health Science Departments to determine whether a student is allowed to enter their programs. Efforts need to be made to vastly improve science education, which is what W.O.W. aims to do.
Description of W.O.W.
In collaboration with teachers, we have created a science education outreach program called Wonders of Our World, or W.O.W. The program began in November 1999 as a collaborative effort with the teaching staff at Chapman Elementary in the Dublin City Schools. In October of the following year W.O.W. expanded to include Gables Elementary in the Columbus City Schools. Medary Elementary and Ecole Kenwood, both in the Columbus City Schools, entered the program at the beginning of the 2001-2002 school year and Wright Elementary in the Dublin City Schools joined W.O.W. in January 2002. The beginning of the 2002-2003 academic year brought two new Columbus schools into the W.O.W. program, Fifth Avenue Alternative Elementary and Franklinton Alternative Elementary. Presently, Wonders of Our World serves more than 100 elementary school teachers and almost 2,500 K-5 students.
W.O.W. teaches basic concepts of the physical and biological sciences through hands-on elementary-level experiments. A series of at least six workshops, each focusing on a different concept, is offered to classroom teachers throughout the school year. At each workshop a detailed description of the project is provided. A set of handouts including teachers' guides for each experiment, a reference list with all citations for books that were used to generate the set of experiments, and a list of related children's literature is distributed to the teachers. The session begins with a discussion of supplemental background information, and then continues with a demonstration of each experiment. The teachers then work through all of the experiments and the results and explanations are discussed with the entire group. In the few days following each workshop, teachers choose the experiments they would like to do in their classrooms. Workshops are scheduled at least four weeks before classroom presentations, so the teachers have time to prepare any desired introductory work for their students. Classroom presentations of the projects, in which the elementary students work through the experiments typically take 45-60 minutes to perform. Volunteers, who have been trained in workshops similar to the teacher workshops, help the teachers facilitate the experiments in the classroom and provide more individual assistance to the students.
The organization of the W.O.W. program involves one lead scientist and a group of volunteer scientists for each school. The lead scientist coordinates the projects for the school and conducts the teacher workshops and volunteer training sessions. Volunteer scientists assist the teachers by helping facilitate the experiments in the classroom. There are currently more than 250 W.O.W. volunteers; most are scientists who work in the Columbus area, parents with a background or strong interest in science, or undergraduate science students.
The greater Columbus area is a perfect location to initiate the W.O.W. program, since a large number of professional scientists and science students are located in the area. Approximately 11,000 scientists and engineers are employed in the greater Columbus area.2 Battelle-Columbus employs 2,000 alone, and numerous scientists work for Abbott Laboratories, Roxane Labs, and Honda of Ohio. Ashland Chemical and Chemical Abstract Services (CAS), two local employers of a large number of scientists, have each adopted a school in the W.O.W. program. CAS supports Gables Elementary with volunteers and monies for supplies. Ashland provides volunteers and materials and supplies monies for Wright Elementary. In addition, Ohio State University employs approximately 3000 faculty members and as more than 48,000 students on campus. Many of the faculty members are scientists and a significant proportion of the students study in the sciences. More than two hundred OSU students volunteer for W.O.W., and a number of faculty members are involved with the development of new experiments for the program.
- Carnegie Commission on Science Technology and Government, In the National Interest: The Federal Government in the Reform of K-12 and Science Education, 1991.
- 1998 Occupational and Employment Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics. http://stats.bls.gov/oes_emp.htm