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teachHOUSTON Students Glean Classroom Lessons at the Science and Engineering Fair of Houston

By: 

Audrey Grayson

You may see quite a few college students at the next Science and Engineering Fair of Houston (SEFH) on February 19th and 20th, but they won’t be competing against the middle and high school students participating in the fair. Instead, they’ll be learning from them.

A group of University of Houston teachHOUSTON students will be in attendance at the upcoming SEFH to observe how the local middle and high school students conducted, presented and explained their scientific research experiments at the fair. The teachHOUSTON students attending the SEFH are part of a “Research Methods” class taught by Simon Bott, an instructional professor and undergraduate chair in the department of chemistry at the UH College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics as well as co-director of the teachHOUSTON program.

The teachHOUSTON program at the University of Houston trains undergraduate students majoring in math and science to become high school mathematics and science teachers. The program strongly emphasizes getting teachHOUSTON students into Houston-area classrooms right away so they can gain valuable teaching experience even as they continue to earn their teaching certification and bachelor’s degree.

Bott describes his “Research and Methods” class as the “penultimate class” for teachHOUSTON students. By the time most teachHOUSTON students get to Bott’s class, they have spent a significant amount of time teaching to high school students in classrooms all over Houston and are usually only a semester away from becoming a full-time student teacher.

According to Bott, there couldn’t be a better learning opportunity for his teachHOUSTON students than the upcoming SEFH. “I can’t think of another group who would benefit more from going to see science projects created by very high achieving middle and high school science students than the college students who are preparing to teach them. There isn’t a better alignment that I can think of.”

The goal of the “Research and Methods” class, according to Bott, is to teach potential STEM teachers how to conduct research properly. “Future teachers need to impart this onto their students, the idea of how you ask a question, how you establish and design an experiment to test that question, how you collect data, how you analyze that data, and how you draw conclusions from that data,” Bott explained.

Attending the SEFH, Bott said, will give his teachHOUSTON students a first-hand understanding of what it’s like for the students presenting their posters at the SEFH and what it takes for them to conduct good quality scientific and mathematical research. “They need to appreciate it by doing it,” Bott said. “You might get snippets in classes of what it takes to conduct research properly, but you don’t get the whole picture.”

Beyond asking his teachHOUSTON students to pay careful attention to the SEFH competitors’ posters and experiments, Bott will also be assigning students to follow the fair’s judges to observe the posters being judged, how the judges are questioning the students, and how the students are responding to those questions. The purpose of this, Bott said, is for the teachHOUSTON students to gain a better understanding of how judge the quality of the research and the poster presentations. “I want the teachHOUSTON students to understand why and how a poster presentation was well done or why and how it was flawed,” said Bott.

Rosa Osegueda will be one of the college-aged teachHOUSTON students in attendance at the SEFH next month. Osegueda is completing her third year in UH’s teachHOUSTON program, working towards a degree in biology with plans to begin student teaching high school biology, chemistry and physics in spring of 2015. To Osegueda, the opportunity to attend to the upcoming SEFH will be crucial to her preparation as a STEM teacher.

“It is always a very curious thing to attempt to gauge how a high school student may think and learn,” Osegueda said. “By attending this fair, we will be able to have more of a firsthand experience with the methodologies that students enact when conducting research. We will also have exposure to the kinds of questions and topics that interest students. As teachers, we are reminded daily that if a student has a legitimate interest in a topic they will be more interested in the lesson or activities that correlate with the topic.”

Moreover, Osegueda said, a lack of exposure to STEM is often to blame for both students’ and teachers’ lack of interest in the subjects. “The lack of exposure to STEM research, fairs, and STEM professionals are some of the reasons for which many students aren’t as interested in these fields, as opposed to their interest in becoming a professional football, basketball, or baseball player.”

“In preparing to be a STEM teacher…it is of utmost importance to be exposed to every possible aspect of STEM research, whether it is the lab portion, the teaching portion, or the role of the student,” Osegueda continued. “The fair will also help us think of new ways to introduce certain topics into our classroom.”

Beyond the obvious benefit of increasing both students’ and teachers’ exposure to STEM fields, Bott sees UH’s involvement in the Science and Engineering Fair of Houston as a win-win for everyone involved. “It’s wonderful for the kids competing in the fair to get exposed to a university and it’s wonderful for our university and our students to have them exposed to us, and to be exposed to them. teachHOUSTON is one of the premiere programs at UH for getting into greater Houston classrooms and inspiring young students into the STEM fields, and hopefully bringing them back to our campus for college where they can progress in their science and math education. It just makes sense.”

To learn more about the Science and Engineering Fair of Houston, please visit: http://www.sefhouston.org/.

To learn more about the teachHOUSTON program at the University of Houston, please visit: http://www.teachhouston.uh.edu/.

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