MAZOMANIE — Twice a month, former and current UW-Madison students trek to little Mazomanie Elementary School here to help students experience what it’s really like to work as a scientist.
The adults are members of Biocore Outreach Ambassadors, a student organization that is an outgrowth of the Biology Core Curriculum honors program at UW-Madison. The program, which is typically open to students beginning in their sophomore year, engages students in “inquiry-based science,” in which students ask questions, search for solutions, test hypotheses and evaluate outcomes.
The Mazomanie Elementary students are so excited when the Ambassadors come that they’ve learned to prepare for their experiments outside of the regular classroom so they are not distracting.
“They teach us things we don’t know and they make it fun while we’re doing it,” fourth-grader Lydia Crowe said.
A key element of inquiry-based learning, and a fundamental part of Biocore, is asking students: “What do you want to know?” and “How can you answer your question?” In inquiry-based learning, investigations take center stage and textbooks become resources, said Biocore instructor Michelle Harris, who volunteers her time advising the Ambassadors program.
Each year, about 40 Biocore ambassadors volunteer to visit rural Wisconsin schools and American Family Children’s Hospital. In addition to the classroom-based learning, the Ambassadors teach science in other settings like an after-school club and summer science camp.
Kelly Hallowell, Patrick O’Grady and Nate Teachout graduated from UW-Madison last spring, but they are continuing to serve as Ambassadors as they take a gap year before continuing their education.
They said the experience is invaluable for students pursuing a number of careers, such as medicine, because it involves communicating science at a complex level in a way that is simple to understand.
Hallowell said the experience has been an exchange of skills. While the Ambassadors are providing examples of inquiry-based science to the teachers who may not have a strong science background, those teachers are showing the visitors ways to teach children in general, as well as specific skills such as classroom management.
Fourth-grader Luke Herrling said he likes when the Ambassadors come because it’s a chance to do fun science activities.
“There’s some explosions and stuff,” he said.