Aspiring teachers usually have to wait to put their newly-acquired skills to the test in the formal classroom setting.
However, undergraduate students in Dr. Charles Eick's summer science methods course and doctoral student Kimberly Nunes-Bufford's mathematics methods course recently received hands-on experience teaching outside the formal structure of traditional classrooms. Eick, an associate professor of science education in Auburn University's College of Education, works with junior- and senior-level students as they help teach at the Summer Ecology Camp and Camp Invention — two academic summer camps in the Auburn area. Nunes-Bufford and her undergraduate students work with the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Lee County to help children develop a meaningful understanding of mathematics. The informal camp settings, which lack the structured learning and testing environment of school-year classrooms, allow students and teachers to learn and have fun at the same time.
Summer camps serve as excellent service learning sites, according to Eick. Children are able to learn about science — a subject often neglected in today's test-oriented classrooms — and future science teachers gain valuable hands-on experience in applying the methods and techniques learned in their own studies.
"The camps help prepare future elementary teachers to feel more comfortable in teaching science and to want to do it,'' Eick said. "In doing it, their students (K-6 children) will benefit with helping spur a possible interest in science (and engineering) for their ongoing studies and possible future careers. Many young children are inspired by science and engineering if given the opportunity to do it and learn it.''
Summer Ecology Camp, a half-day summer camp for rising first through sixth graders, is conducted by Auburn University's School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences. The camp is held at the Louise Kreher Forest Ecology Preserve in Auburn, and teaches children about national standards dealing with environmental science and ecology. Themes focus on the outdoors, ecology and human impact on the environment.
Camp Invention, a local branch of the national Inventors Hall of Fame program, is an all-day camp run by area teachers for rising first through sixth graders, and is held at Wrights Mill Road Elementary School in Auburn. Students learn about science, technology and engineering lessons at an elementary level through inventing, creating, building and problem-solving.
"Science is important because of our need for more future scientists and engineers. Not emphasizing science early and often in our schools - K-5 in particular - could end up hurting us in this endeavor and our ability to complete in the global marketplace."
In all, the Forest Ecology Preserve and Camp Invention provide students with a solid science foundation by presenting the subject matter in a fun and creative light. The camps also allow novice teachers to gain hands-on experience testing out their instructional skills, which prepares them for their internships.
"From this, [university students] learn they can teach anywhere, and that the use of expensive and complicated materials is not necessary to be an effective teacher," Eick said. "The added experience makes the beginner teachers more comfortable and prepared to teach the subject. They are also able to learn from mentors, usually veteran teachers, with whom they are paired."
Math methods students teach 6- to 12-year-olds at the Boys and Girls Club about concepts such as measurement, geometry and number sense. The additional exposure to and involvement in mathematics outside the traditional classroom setting is especially important to these children. Ninety percent of the campers are minority students, and minorities are under-represented in the math and science fields.
"The knowledge and experience I gained from participating and teaching was wonderful," she said. "As a future elementary teacher, being exposed to the 'hands on' approach in teaching will benefit me for many years to come.''