At this point in the spring semester, undergraduate volunteers with the College’s InSciEd Out program would typically be helping students from classrooms around the Twin Cities prepare poster presentations to share results from the science experiments they had conducted throughout the year. Some of the approximately 2,000 students from 9 schools around the metro that participate in the program each year would be planning a trip to the St. Paul campus for the annual InSciEd Out Research Symposium where they would have the opportunity to interact with students, faculty and staff.
All that changed in March as learning moved online for students of every age. What didn’t change was the desire from local teacher partners to give their students opportunities to connect with real scientists.
We wanted to find creative ways to continue to serve our partners. It was important for us to continue to connect with the students we work with in schools around the metro, ” says Seth Thompson, the College’s outreach program manager. “We’re doing that with online mentoring, meeting our partners where they are at and building that sense of community and connectedness.”
In place of the usual classroom experiences this spring, students at the Minnesota Excellence in Learning Academy will send their questions to one of the program's undergraduate assistants serving as scientist buddies. The scientist buddies will post video replies each week to answer student questions and sprinkle in some informal science learning. Each buddy sent out a brief video introducing themselves to the teacher and students of their partner class. Students watched them from home and submitted follow up questions for the scientists. Scientist buddies and teachers are working together to gather ideas from students about how to conduct an experiment related to what they have been studying in class, then the buddies will record themselves conducting those experiments using household materials from their own home and share with the class.
“InSciEd Out has always been about providing opportunities for all students to live the process of science, ” says Thompson. “Distance learning has certainly raised some challenges for achieving that mission, but it is also providing an opportunity to innovate and really grow our relationships with our partners. We are finding new ways to bring science into students’ lives and providing a sense of community and human connection during this time of isolation.” - Stephanie Xenos