July 15, 2013
With growing class sizes and limited funding, California’s education system is a hot topic in news today because of budget cuts hurting arts and science education in the classrooms. Students face fewer resources and supplemental excursions that normally better their education experience.
This semester, we have decided to bring the excursions to a local first grade classroom at John Mack Elementary School through JEP. Once a week, we adapt material from our Water and Soil Sustainability course to enjoyable material that first graders can easily comprehend and retain.
In order to adapt our educational material to a first grade level, we have adopted the use of hands on and visual activities. These types of activities have been proven to stimulate student interest, engagement, and retention in learning material, which is our goal as we teach the students about science.
Since the students are still at a low level of reading and writing simply due to their age, pictures and visual aids have been integral to our teaching. For some students in the class, English is their second language, so visuals help them even more because they can see what we are teaching, even if they do not fully understand what we are saying. We have noticed that when we use visuals, it is easier to reference what we have previously taught, and the students immediately recall the pictures and experiments we performed.
However, using specific keywords in our lessons is still crucial to the student’s understanding of complex issues. Rather than going into “wordy” discussions about concepts that are difficult for even us to understand, we reiterate 2-4 words throughout the lesson so that the main concepts stick with the students. Since they only have to remember these few key words that are repeated multiple times throughout the hour, it is easier for them to remember what they learned the previous week.
One of the major problems with the Los Angeles School District is the large class sizes. With four of us teaching the first graders, we are able to give each of them individual attention. Students feel as though we are concentrated only on them which encourages them to participate more, and engage in the activities.
Using hands-on learning tools engages students by making the material more interesting and relatable. (Holstermann , Grube & Bögeholz, 2009) By being physically involved in the learning process, the students are able to make connections between what we are learning at the table, and what they are doing in their lives outside of the classroom. When we show them how trash pollutes the ocean, they say things like “I’ve seen trash in the ocean!” or even “I picked trash up off the street yesterday so it would not get to the ocean!” They can also get a serious image of the consequences of pollution or the rewards of agriculture. Stimulating students in hands-on activities engages them and helps them relate as well as remember what they have learned.
The most rewarding and influential aspect of our role in teaching the students is acting as their mentors. Scholars argue that attention and retention problems are most intense for minorities students, resulting in severe dropout rates (Fredricks,Blumenfeld,Paris,2004). Being in an urban, minority area, many students have parents who perhaps may have not graduated high school and are thought they will do the same, but we refuse to give up hope on these kids. By breaking into small groups, we build an emotional connection with the students. Working on projects together creates a reliance and attachment to one another, as well as a sense of accountability. The students try their best to impress us, and make us proud, which is a skill we hope will continue with them even after we are gone. We might be their first encounter with college at all, especially with a college student, and we must make a great impression to inspire them to set their goals high. While working on projects in class, questions come up, such as, “What is USC … is it a beach?” or “Are you a parent?” While these questions may seem absurd to us, they just show how little interaction these students have had with college students, especially outside of their minority bubble. Students can’t set their goals on college if they don’t even know what college is. By crossing these boundaries, we give the students the option of learning what college is, and possibly pursuing that path. We want to be sure the students have every opportunity to have the best life possible.
This post was written by Sarah Wood and Jennica Wragg.
Holstermann , N., Grube, D., & Bögeholz, S. (n.d.). Hands-on activities and their influence on students’ interest. (2009). doi: DOI 10.1007/s11165-009-9142-0
Jennifer A. Fredricks, Phyllis C. Blumenfeld and Alison H. Paris
Review of Educational Research , Vol. 74, No. 1 (Spring, 2004), pp. 59-109
Published by: American Educational Research Association
Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org.libproxy.usc.edu/stable/3516061
Vargas, M. (2009, 12 1). How do 37 students fit into 20 seats? doing the failed math of my oversized english class. Retrieved from http://www.sjbeez.org/articles/2009/12/01/how-do-37-students-fit-in-20-seats/
California State Board of Education, (2003). Standards for california pubic education: Kindergarten through grade twelve. Retrieved from website: http://www.cde.ca.gov/be/st/ss/documents/sciencestnd.pdf
Measure a – how we got here. (2012, 12 19). Retrieved from http://www.aforpiedmontschools.org/measure-a-how-we-got-here