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ESEP: Science Partners

A novel and integral part of the ESEP/Atlanta program is the training and use of "science partners," science-literate undergraduates at six of the ESEP colleges and universities (the Morehouse School of Medicine has no undergraduates) who are paired for a semester with a with classroom teacher. The program varies slightly at each undergraduate institution, but the program at Emory University is fairly typical.

Recruitment and Training. At Emory, science partners enroll in a one-semester course of two credit hours toward an undergraduate major in any of five departments: biology, physics, chemistry, psychology, and anthropology. At the beginning of the semester, enrollees receive 12 hours of instruction on the nature of the inquiry-based approach to science learning, constructivist theory, age appropriate teaching methods, and are introduced to a series of kit-based science modules.

Partnering with Teachers. ESEP staff match the science partners with teachers with whom they work three to four hours per week in the classroom. The partners discuss schedules and the materials teachers are using and jointly plan the science partners' classroom visits. In the classroom, the partners work as science para-professionals with the teachers, helping to lead classes in hands-on activities from the assigned kit or in other exercises developed by ESEP staff or by the teacher. Each term approximately 200 students are recruited from the six undergraduate campuses to sign up for a semester-long partnership. To date, over 500 teachers have had science partners.

Teachers have reacted positively to the partnering experience. When asked, they mention that their science partners are able to help them with matters of science content and are, in the words of one teacher, not intimidating or imposing, as more mature scientists are thought to be. The science partners also provide a model of how to say, "I don't know ... how can we find out," in response to a childs question, a phrase that teachers, who are used to being in a position of authority, often have difficulty using.

Journals and Reflections Sessions. Emory-based science partners are required to keep journals on their observations in the classroom. One evening a week, they come together in groups of 8-10 for one-hour "reflection sessions" in which they share and discuss their observations. Also attending each session is a faculty/scientist-mentor and often a teacher. Twice a semester a cultural anthropologist named Dr. Kathryn Kozaitis probes, facilitates, and debriefs the science partners on differences in children's learning styles and differences in the cultural aspects of their backgrounds that can affect classroom interactions.

Impact on College Undergraduates. The impact of this course on the science partners is anecdotal, but it seems to be strong, with numerous students considering interruptions in their science education to volunteer for Teach for America or other programs where they can teach without the normally required credentials. Two students to date have changed their majors from pre-med to education.

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