‘Funky Fungi,’ the ‘Pollination Game’ and Tigers: MU Science Grad Students Go to K-12 Classrooms to Inspire, Motivate

COLUMBIA, Mo.–A fourth grader might not be excited to learn about plant-fungus interactions under normal circumstances, but he or she might perk up if the lesson is named “Funky Fungi” and an enthusiastic graduate student teaches it. That’s the idea behind the new Life Sciences Graduate Student Outreach (LSGSO) program, which connects University of Missouri-Columbia graduate students in the sciences with kindergarten through 12th grade school teachers. At the request of a teacher, LSGSO will provide a graduate student who can teach a hands-on science lesson in a public school classroom.

“Our goal is to inspire young people and generate interest in the sciences,” said Katy Klymus, LSGSO program co-coordinator and doctoral student in biology. “For the graduate students, this is also an opportunity to gain experience with outreach and to practice expressing what they do and why it’s important to the public and kids.”
LSGSO’s Web site is aimed at making connections with local teachers. The site names 16 graduate students who are available to teach lessons and includes the age group at which the lesson is targeted, along with the topic, length and a brief description. Sample lessons include “Funky Fungi,” the “pollination game,” conservation of tigers, animal communication, human impact on birds and diabetes. Teachers can contact LSGSO to schedule one or more graduate students, who will visit their classrooms and present lessons based on their research. The aim is to show that interesting questions are asked and answered through research and that research is fun.

“It’s fun to talk about science with excited kids. At least half of science is sharing what you learn, and it is especially fun to share with young children because they are open minded and often very excited about learning new things,” said Andrew Cox, program co-coordinator and a doctoral student in biology.

Cox and Klymus developed the LSGSO program with help from Sandra Abell, director of the MU Science Education Center and Curators’ professor of science education, and Marcelle Siegel, assistant professor of science education and biochemistry. Abell and Siegel hosted workshops that provided the graduate students with an introduction to effective lesson planning and strategies for creating an engaging and valuable lesson.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to connect Columbia kindergarten through 12th grade students and their teachers with MU researchers,” Abell said.

LSGSO recently completed its first outreach event at West Junior High. For more information visit the Web site at http://www.scienceoutreach.missouri.edu/.

Want to share a great resource? Let us know at submissions@eschoolmedia.com.