Scholars Offer Science Inspiration to 5th-Graders
McDermott Students Partner With Elementary School to Improve Test Scores
Jul. 1, 2010
Thurgood Marshall Elementary is a school on its way up. Its students just need a little help.
The Richardson district school earned a “Recognized” rating from the Texas Education Agency in 2009, but wanted to help students improve their TAKS science scores to reach the coveted “Exemplary” rating. Administrators also wanted to spark students’ interest in science and technology.
Dr. Monica Evans explains how she and her team are creating a video game to get freshmen comfortable with calculus.
Enter the McDermott Scholars from The University of Texas at Dallas. Group Excellence, a motivational and tutoring group, partnered fifth-graders from Sarah Parkerson’s class with the elite UT Dallas scholars for a semester of one-on-one tutoring at the campus just south of Interstate 635 in Dallas.
“We could see the kids’ interest in science from the first day we were at Thurgood Marshall,” said sophomore McDermott Scholar Sachin Shah. “We went through some basic experiments with the kids to teach them real-world concepts, like illustrating Newton’s law of universal gravitation with a shoe and a pencil, and properties of electricity.”
A major task for the UT Dallas tutors was readying the fifth-graders for their annual science fair.
“This has always been a struggle for our students because of their limited resources outside the classroom,” Parkerson said.
Karina, Shah’s tutoring charge, created an exhibit which explained the surface tension of water. Others illustrated aerodynamics and the properties of different liquids. One duo created an electrical circuit.
“The improvement in projects we saw at our science fair this year was amazing, and the students were very proud of what they were able to accomplish,” Parkerson said.
After the big event, the tutors worked with small groups of TME students to review material for the science portion of the TAKS test. The UT Dallas students handled this in the usual, informal way: They played games.
“I could tell they were getting better every single time I went,” said Shah. “Each week, I noticed they became much more confident in their knowledge about science, and they became more competitive as a result.”
Time will tell whether the added efforts equaled better science TAKS scores. The TEA officially announces school ratings each August based on the preceding academic year tests.
For Shah, seeing the interest on the fifth-graders’ faces was enough.
“I would say as far as test scores go, the teachers at Thurmond Marshall are the ones who really did all the work,” he said. “They did an excellent job preparing them for the TAKS test.
“The impact we made was more serving as role models and bringing out students’ curiosity in a casual setting. What we witnessed at the school was that the difference we made was very tangible, in that the students demonstrably learned more as we worked with them. For me, that’s the part that really made the experience worthwhile.”
The Thurgood Marshall fifth-graders visited the Natural Science Engineering and Research Laboratory.
UT Dallas Makes for a Dynamic
Field Trip Destination
A group of Thurgood Marshall fifth-graders recently had a chance to step into the McDermott Scholars’ world.
They toured the Natural Science and Engineering Research Laboratory (NSERL) with Dr. Yves Chabal, head of the Materials Science and Engineering Department and Texas Instruments Distinguished University Chair in Nanoelectronics.
Chabal answered questions from the 15 students touring the NSERL facilities.
They next toured an arts and technology production lab with Dr. Monica Evans, who explained how she and her team were creating a video game to get freshmen comfortable with calculus. The fifth-graders got a look at the storyboards, equations and sketches that are part of the game creation process.
They also got a sneak peek of the new Contact Science kiosks, which are sponsored by the University’s Science Engineering and Education Center. The modules, which encourage hands-on exploration of optics, microscopes and electricity’s properties, are currently on loan to the Richardson Public Library, and to Plano’s Haggard and Harrington Libraries.
After a morning full of campus exploration, including a visit to the new Residence Hall, the Thurgood Marshall students headed back to their school.
“My favorite part of the tour was the video game lab,” said Lauren, 11. “I liked seeing the pictures the team drew [to prepare for production].”
McDermott Scholar Sachin Shah, who is a research assistant in Chabal’s lab, enjoyed seeing the University from the fifth-graders’ perspective.
“Many of these kids have never had a family member go to college, and probably weren’t thinking about college at all,” Shah said. “By working with us, and then touring a college campus, these students had an opportunity to see that college is a very real possibility for all of them.
“The kids really enjoyed the university tour, and they came to realize how close it was to their homes. College was a real place, and the students realized that we were just normal people who went there.”