STEM education is continually talked about as being of the utmost importance to the next generation, and over the last several years, NSU’s Biology program has made major impacts in this area in Aberdeen’s elementary schools. Once a month, several Biology and Biology Education students team up with Dr. Kiesow to offer Biology supplementary education in four of the local elementary schools. Dr. Kiesow explained that her original inspiration for the idea came from when her two children were in the YMCA Learning Tree Program (now called the Youth Development Center). Seeing the dire need for STEM education, she asked her kids’ teachers if she could come into the classroom on occasion and teach the kids about some topic in biology. Not only did her kids’ teachers appreciate this, but teachers from other classrooms in the school became interested and asked her to come to their classrooms. Because of such a large number of classrooms being interested in the program, she enlisted a few Biology Education majors 4 years ago to help her out as a STEM internship opportunity. Now, Biology majors also work alongside those pursing a BSED degrees. This years’ student-teachers include Elizabeth Katz, Zach Fleming, Matt Wiebers, Dakotah Bullen, and Kevin Heilman. They teach at May Overby, O.M. Tiffany, Simmons, and the Montessori school, working in 9 classrooms total. Dr. Kiesow still teaches in her kids’ classrooms at May Overby. Monthly, elementary students are introduced to key scientific concepts through a new hands-on, fun approach. In October, owl pellets were brought in and used as a tool to talk about predator/prey relationships and why this concept is important to understand.
Students dissected the pellets, and the student-teachers helped students create dichotomous keys. Then, they passed around real animal skulls, and students attempted to correctly identify whether the skull came from a predator or prey. Past months’ lessons have included the appearance of real Madagascar cockroaches to help students understand biomes. Next month, the NSU Biology crew plans to help students plate bacteria and create the opportunity to talk about the relevant ideas of evolution, antibiotics, and antibiotic resistance. Dr. Kiesow explained that she chooses topics “built around STEM standards that elementary schools are supposed to follow.” She indicated that elementary teachers do not have the budget or training to introduce hands-on learning methods such as owl pellets. Since NSU provides both the tools and people, this problem is eliminated through the outreach program. Positive effects occur from both sides of this program. BSED students have expressed great appreciation for this additional opportunity to get comfortable in front of a classroom in addition to student teaching while also becoming more familiar with the subject material. Dr. Kiesow described her ultimate vision for the continuation of this program, saying, “I hope that my kids’ classes will have a higher percentage of people enter into STEM fields later in life.” Dr. Kiesow is currently working with the City of Aberdeen to extend this program to more schools and classrooms. Biology majors can get involved as simply a volunteer opportunity, while those pursuing a BSED in Biology can either use this as another opportunity to gain experience in teaching or take it for credit as a STEM education internship (BIOL 495 Practicum). Contact Dr. Alyssa Kiesow for more information.