SRU students teach science to 400 Butler second-graders


Second graders enjoying a show in the planetarium

More than 400 second-graders from Butler Area School District visited Slippery Rock University, Oct. 19 and 24, to experience a planetarium show about the solar system and to learn from SRU students teaching sections as part of a service learning project.

Oct. 25, 2018

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Reclined in a seat inside Slippery Rock University's planetarium, an awestruck second-grader points to video projected on the 30-foot-wide domed ceiling and tells a classmate how all the planets revolve around the sun. Their classmates later hold up fruits and vegetables that represent the size of the planets, like a cherry tomato for Earth and a watermelon for Jupiter.

This was just part of the experience for more than 400 second-grade students from the Butler Area School District who visited SRU's Vincent Science Center, Oct. 19 and 24, where 50 SRU students from three classes taught the elementary school students as part of their courses' service-learning project.

While "whoa!" was a common response from the second-graders, organizers were able to better explain what experiences like this meant to everyone involved.

"I love working with children ... when they all went 'Whoa!' I thought that was so cool how they were taking it in and that they were all interested," said Alina Glath, a junior art major from Butler with a K-12 certification. "It's a very good experience because it makes you feel more comfortable in doing something like this in the future and possibly stepping into more leadership roles."

Several departments at SRU, including the Education Department, have previously organized similar service-learning projects with local schools, but the Department of Physics and Engineering's partnership with BASD is unprecedented for the number of students participating.

"Because we have a planetarium, teachers like to bring in their students for the solar system unit of their classes, so this is a great opportunity for my students to teach them," said Krishna Mukherjee, assistant professor of physics and engineering. "We've had elementary students from several schools come here before but this was the first time we've had an entire grade come from a school."

Students from Mukherjee's Space Science class, Elements of Physics Honors class and Electricity and Magnetism class worked together to offer four half-hour lessons in topics that included lunar phases, Kepler's Laws, building circuits and the scale of the solar system, all in fun, hands-on activities.

"This is the first experience that they have teaching kids, and even if they are not education majors, just talking to kids and getting an outside perspective and taking what they are learning and expressing it adequately to others is very important," Mukherjee said.

"This helps us understand the subject on a deeper level because if we know the topic we really have to know it well to simplify it in a way that they can understand, especially to answer all their questions," said Ashley Wilson, a sophomore homeland security major from Berryville, Virginia.

Some of the children had the answers, like one who knew how many miles it is from Butler to Disneyworld in Florida (1,000 miles). That's why they were taken aback when Jake Morrison, a senior computing major from Cheswick, told them it would take 164 years to drive from the Earth to the sun, which is roughly 93 million miles, or 65,000 years to drive from the sun to Pluto.

Although SRU students are using this opportunity as a learning experience and they are being graded for the work, including 20 percent based on evaluations from the Butler teachers accompanying their students, this service-learning project benefits both SRU and BASD.

"Our school is putting more of an emphasis on STEAM, so this reinforces what we're teaching," said Donna Friel, a second-grade teacher from Connoquenessing Elementary School, referring to the fields of science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics. "Getting the students out of the classroom helps put learning into a more realistic situation. Also, the kids relate to younger people teaching them and it's always beneficial to see new teaching methods being used, so we enjoy this a lot."

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