Science for Tomorrow: U-M Museum of Natural History aids teachers during a hybrid school year

July 8, 2021
Contact: Sydney Hawkins sydhawk@umich.edu

Science for Tomorrow

Students from

disadvantaged backgrounds

have less access

to science learning opportunities

Shelly Lesko – middle school teacher

Most of our students receive free and reduced lunches and breakfast. So there’s a lot of need for students to be provided with things.

Jeanna Fox – outreach mgr – Natural History museum

There is a big gap. They just don’t have the same opportunities to make connections with research and with science in a way that helps them access college in the future.

The U-M Museum of Natural History

immerses them in science

during three years

of middle schools

to ignite their imaginations

and open doors

to future discoveries

Tarek Henawi –Garden City student

You get to do all kinds of cool experiments.

Isabella Ziobron – Garden City student

This is more fun because we actually had to do things.

Alex Bargeon – Garden City student

I feel like I want to learn more about how life works.

Jeanna Fox

Science for Tomorrow is a program that reaches out to underrepresented youth in Michigan. We bring them to campus, they’ll get all sorts of science activities here and also visit them at the schools.

Shelley Lesko

We’ve gone to the scientists’ labs and we get to see what the scientists are working on, what they’re experimenting on. The students love meeting the scientists – they always have so many interesting questions.

Jeanna Fox

This is supposed to be an on-campus program, but in looking at how the pandemic was, we had to find a more creative way of still reaching the students.

U-M solved this problem

by designing and delivering

more than 1,200

science kits

To schools in

Garden City, Detroit

and Ypsilanti

Jeanna Fox

I start first with the researcher’s work and what they’re trying to accomplish, and then I need to look at the school’s curriculum. What are some of those key points that so many students miss — and trying to bridge the gaps.

Karrar Abdulkhudhur – student

Endothermic is heat being drawn in. Exothermic is generating heat.

Tarek Henawi

You’re able to basically become a little scientist.

Shelly Lesko

They just didn’t send us kits and say, “Here, try to use them”. They communicated with us ahead of time. What are you covering in seventh grade? What are you covering in eighth grade? This is only enhancing the curriculum that we already have to teach.

U-M also sends videos

from researchers

and university students

Explaining the science

in the experiments

Alex Bargeon – student

It was cool how I could actually see how it was done on the videos.

Jeanna Fox

The teachers that participate in the program with us are just rock stars. They are just jumping through hoops to make all of this happen for our children.

Shelly Lesko

I have students virtually and in person at the same time, so I can give my students at home and in school the same experience because they have all the same materials provided in the kit.

Jeanna Fox

We find that with young people, when they have a relationship with people in science and they feel fostered and safe, they will continue with science. And that’s what we hope to achieve is to give them three years in middle school, and to help them really see the possibilities.

Over the last 5 years,

Science for Tomorrow
has reached

750 middle schoolers

Alex Bargeon – Garden City student

I definitely liked it. I liked doing hands-on things.

Isabella Ziobron – Garden City student

I would say science is one of my favorite subjects. It just seems really cool to me.

Shelley Lesko, a science teacher at Garden City Middle School, can attest. Lesko is one of the thousands of school teachers in Michigan who had to shift gears several times due to unforeseen COVID-19-related challenges and setbacks.

Shelley Lesko, a science teacher at Garden City Middle School, worked with the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History to determine which hands-on experiments would be most useful to her students. Image credit: Eric Bronson, Michigan Photography

Shelley Lesko, a science teacher at Garden City Middle School, worked with the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History to determine which hands-on experiments would be most useful to her students. Image credit: Eric Bronson, Michigan Photography

“We were completely virtual at the beginning of the year, and then we went to a hybrid classroom where some kids were at home and some were in person,” said Lesko, who teaches 7th and 8th graders. “It is really hard to teach hands-on science in this situation.”

During a normal year, Lesko’s lessons would include interactive labs where her students would share supplies and work in group settings—something that was not possible with this year’s COVID-19 protocols that included strict social distancing and sanitization guidelines. Not to mention the kids at home that would not be able to participate.

A bit of relief came this year when Jeanna Fox, outreach manager for the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History, connected with her to ask how they could help.

Jeanna Fox, outreach manager for the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History, connected with Garden City along with schools in Ypsilanti and Detroit. Image credit: Eric Bronson, Michigan Photography

Jeanna Fox, outreach manager for the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History, connected with Garden City along with schools in Ypsilanti and Detroit. Image credit: Eric Bronson, Michigan Photography

Fox worked with Lesko and other science teachers at Garden City Middle School, Washtenaw International Middle Academy in Ypsilanti and Cesar Chavez Middle Academy in Detroit to identify hands-on experiments that would be most useful for their curriculum.

Fox then coordinated with museum staff to assemble and distribute more than 1,575 science kits to students in the three schools that included safety glasses, beakers, thermometers, rulers, rubber gloves and other elements needed for their lessons. The kits accompanied a virtual Science for Tomorrow program that was in lieu of the museum’s traditional on campus program that serves up to 150 students each year.

The U-M team assembled 1,575 science kits for use at three schools. Image credit: Eric Bronson, Michigan Photography

The U-M team assembled 1,575 science kits for use at three schools. Image credit: Eric Bronson, Michigan Photography

The experiments, funded by a Broader Impacts grant from the National Science Foundation, were based on the research of three U-M faculty: Gyorgyi Csankovszki, professor of molecular, cellular, and developmental biology; Dominika Zgid, associate professor of chemistry; and Selena Smith, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences.

They provided teachers with accompanying lesson plans, worksheets, videos and slide presentations to accompany the kits.

“I definitely liked it. I like doing hands-on things,” said Alex Bargeon, a student in Lesko’s class who hopes to work in the medical field one day. “I like to know how things work, and it is definitely different when you can touch and feel stuff.”

Garden City Middle School students use the museum's science kits, which accompanied a virtual Science for Tomorrow program that was in lieu of the museum’s traditional on campus program. Image credit: Eric Bronson, Michigan Photography

Garden City Middle School students use the museum’s science kits, which accompanied a virtual Science for Tomorrow program that was in lieu of the museum’s traditional on campus program. Image credit: Eric Bronson, Michigan Photography

For Isabella Ziobron, another one of Lesko’s students, the kits provided a fun way to reengage after a rough few months of taking virtual classes.

“Science is one of my favorite subjects because figuring out how things work is really cool to me,” she said. “I had a hard time doing online learning, so I liked doing the experiments, learning about endothermic and exothermic [reactions].”

Over the past decade, hundreds of middle schoolers have visited the museum and its research labs as part of Science for Tomorrow, a program that welcomes students from at-risk communities that are underrepresented in STEM fields and on college campuses.

“We had been working with Shelley and others at schools in southeast Michigan for many years as part of our Science for Tomorrow program,” Fox said. “Though the museum’s doors were closed this year, we were doing everything we could to figure out how to help these teachers and schools that we had worked closely with before.”

As part of the program, the middle schoolers also get a chance to experience college life by touring campus, staying in dorms and eating in the cafeterias. Lesko’s students especially enjoyed interacting with college students and scientists during their campus visits.

“This field trip is always a highlight for my students—many of them get the experience of stepping onto a college campus for the first time,” she said. “While we weren’t able to go to the museum this year, we were thankful that they were able to continue the program in this way.”

The science kits provided by the museum would be one of the only times this year where Lesko’s at-home learners were able to have almost the exact same hands-on experiences that her in-person learners had.

“Any given school year, finding the time to complete the curriculum and the budget to do it are always challenges that we face as teachers,” she said. “It was meaningful that the museum stepped in and provided countless hours putting the kits together and covering costs for the materials.”

As a Title 1 school, many students participating are on free or reduced lunch programs, so the kits were delivered to at-home learners as part of this distribution process.

“The pandemic has stretched teachers to their limit,” said Fox, who taught science for 17 years before working at the museum. “I have also worked at schools with at-risk populations and with similar resource issues, so it was especially important to me to figure out a way to help.”

 

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