Last year, Schmid College started a service-based learning course called STEM in Action in partnership with a local non-profit, Higher Ground Youth and Family Services, in Anaheim. This course allows Chapman students to lead STEM-focused activities to get elementary and middle school children excited about science. Typically the students would work with the children at Higher Ground in-person, but due to the pandemic, the students had to get creative in order to educate the children virtually.

The course’s learning objective is for the Chapman students to expose children within the Higher Ground program to STEM and educate them on a STEM topic. In order to achieve this, the students study different pedagogical styles such as culturally responsive, culturally relevant, and critical pedagogy to allow Higher Ground children the best possibility of connecting to the STEM topics. 

Learning the Art of Science Communication

Lauren Dudley, the course instructor, is a modern-day Ms. Frizzle, taking every chance to educate students about science. With a passion for education and science, Dudley is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Education, specifically focusing on improving student self-efficacy in STEM. 

She says this course is a unique opportunity for Chapman students to practice their science communication to a non-scientific audience. Dudley explained, “Chapman students will be communicating with people in the future about science, yet they don’t often realize how much communication is required to be a scientist. Even further, sometimes that communication isn’t with the scientific community but the public.” 

Dudley exposes students in the course to education-focused research on teaching methods to help them with their communication and curriculum development on their topic.

Students throwing eggs in baskets off a second floor

Chapman students helped Higher Ground youth construct an egg carrier, then threw it off the second floor to see if the egg stayed intact.

Inspiring Confidence

Higher Ground provides mentoring programs for youth and their families in at-risk communities in Anaheim and the surrounding areas of Orange County. The Anaheim location alone serves around 100 youth. These children often do not have the support at home and lack confidence academically.

Junior pre-med student, Stephanie Munduruca, shared that her favorite part of the course is making a difference in these children’s lives by helping to increase their self-efficacy. “Many students at Higher Ground come from very different backgrounds and life experiences that may have lowered their ability to see themselves succeeding academically. All we want is for them to see how impactful their ideas are and how the only limit is themselves,” shared Munduruca.

Transition to Remote Learning

Before the pandemic hit, Chapman students were going to Higher Ground’s location in Anaheim once a week for two hours to work with the children.  The Chapman students organized experiments for the children, such as putting mentos in soda and ranking the soda’s reactivity, constructing an egg carrier, and then throwing it off the second floor to see if the egg stayed intact.

As Chapman transitioned to remote learning, Dudley worked closely with Higher Ground Founder Joe Baldo to figure out an alternative way to continue the course. The solution: YouTube Videos. “We decided on filling up the Higher Ground YouTube channel was the best alternative, so kids even at home [could] find something to learn,” Dudley explained. “This community may be stuck at home, but it still [fosters] the nurturing family community [these children need].”

So far, Chapman students have created videos on a range of science topics. Some examples include science experiments to do with household supplies and stretching exercises to teach the parts of the human body. “[Dudley] provides us with new perspectives and the tools to succeed, and the freedom to teach [the Higher Ground children] in the methods that we feel will connect us better to them,” Munduruca expressed. “She has made the transition smooth and has taught and inspired my peers and me in STEM in Action to keep going despite the online semester.”

Ty the Science Guy teaching STEM through YouTube Videos

“Ty the Science Guy” explaining oxidation-reduction (redox) reactions to children at Higher Ground through YouTube videos

To sum up the course, Munduruca emphasized, “This class [is] about something more significant than brainstorming science experiments. It’s about collaborating with these Higher Ground students to lead them to more academic opportunities that many students at Chapman take for granted. ”

Chapman students interested in taking the STEM in Action course are encouraged to reach out to course instructor Lauren Dudley via email.