Teaching out of a textbook can only do so much to ignite a student’s interest in science. Elias Arellano Villanueva, an eighth-grade biology teacher at IDEA Public Schools in Weslaco, Texas, knows that it takes some time outside of the classroom for students to gain a lifelong love for science.
“I want my students to see what scientists really do, and inspire them to become scientists. They aren’t going to be inspired just sitting there doing worksheets,” he said.
I want my students to see what scientists really do, and inspire them to become scientists. They aren’t going to be inspired just sitting there doing worksheets.
Elias is not alone in his dedication to giving students hands-on science research opportunities. Science teachers and mentors across the country are making a difference in the lives of their students every day. These hard-working individuals are taking their commitment to science one step further this year by participating in the Society for Science & the Public’s Advocate Grant Program.
As Advocates, these science teachers and mentors receive a stipend that will help them guide underrepresented and underserved students as they conduct research projects and apply to participate in science fairs. Recently, participants in the 2017-2018 Advocate Grant Program gathered in Washington, D.C. for the Advocate Research Institute, where they learned best practices from Society staff, returning home ready to inspire their students to pursue exciting scientific research projects and enter science competitions, like (but not limited to) the Society's three competitions.
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Charlie Flint, Shana Lee, and Elias Arellano Villanueva are just three of the 38 advocates that came to D.C. for the training. While they come from different areas of the country and have various backgrounds, they share the common goal of giving their students practical experience by entering science fairs.
Charlie Flint, a teacher at Hawthorne Math and Science Academy in California, has always wanted to lead his students to compete in science fairs, but lacked a sponsor. Now, with the Advocate program, he has the resources he needs to support his students in this new experience.
This grant will give me a space where I can help develop the student’s curiosity.
“I think it’s important that my students experience real science, something outside of the classroom. Teaching science just out of the textbooks is not easy,” he said.
The funding he’ll receive as an Advocate will allow him to ensure the program’s success. With nothing like this taking place at his school before, setting up the program and attracting more students will take some time and resources.
I think it’s important that my students experience real science, something outside of the classroom.
While he says he wants his students to win the competitions they enter, Charlie knows in the end, the experience students will get from research and competing is what really matters. And in addition to being a valuable learning experience, it’s also great for the students’ resumes and college applications.
Elias agrees. “After doing the applications for science fair, the applications for college will be a breeze,” he said.
But more than giving students experience filling out applications and adding a valuable extracurricular activity that will make them competitive on their college applications, Elias wants to instill a passion for scientific research in his students. By giving students the right tools, he believes they will develop a curiosity for specific subjects that will last a lifetime.
Elias plans to accomplish his goals by establishing a STEM club that will give students the opportunity to pursue science outside of the classroom. Through field trips to local universities and academic research facilities, students will learn from professionals with experience in the field. The funding from the Advocate program will make all of this possible.
“Science is more than just being in class. Application and hands-on opportunities create the most lessons,” Elias said. “This grant will give me a space where I can help develop the student’s curiosity.”
I want them to learn that science is not something that is big and scary.
Shana Lee, a graduate research assistant for Science Education Outreach at Mississippi State University, works with a local high school to encourage students to enter science fairs. This grant will make it possible for her to improve the program, and will help cover the fees for entering competitions and transportation. Shana has found success in bringing science to students outside of the classroom with an Adventure Club, which provides students with outdoor experiential learning. From this club, she plans on attracting students to participate in science fairs.
“I want them to learn that science is not something that is big and scary,” Shana said. “I want them to know they can make a difference.”
Shana has seen firsthand the benefits that students receive from participating in science fairs. Last year, when a student advanced to a statewide science competition, Shana says she was a changed girl.
“It helps them think a little bit more,” Shana said. “It helps them become more confident.”
Whether students apply to enter Society competitions like the Regeneron Science Talent Search, Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF), Broadcom MASTERS, or another science competition, these teachers will have made a difference at the end of the day by helping underrepresented students pursue meaningful science research.