Science Safari lets elementary school students explore science with MU grad students

Monday, September 30, 2013 | 8:42 p.m. CDT
Elementary students from Midway Heights and Paxton Keeley participate in the ShowMe Nature GK-12 Science Safari on Monday in Tucker Hall.

COLUMBIA — On Monday morning, Jordan Cadwell, a fifth grader at Midway Heights Elementary School, examined the leaves of a plant in the Tucker Greenhouse. He wants to be a highway patrolman, but he was just as excited to be in the greenhouse as his classmates who aspire to be chemists and doctors.

"I love science!" Jordan said, throwing up his hands. "You get to do experiments and I love everything about it."

Jordan was one of dozens of fourth- and fifth-graders who attended the ShowMe Nature GK-12 Science Safari at MU on Monday to learn from scientists and graduate students.

Science Safari is held four times a year at MU. This time, students came from Midway Heights and Paxton Keeley Elementary School.

Enthusiasm like Jordan's is what program leaders like to see, said Candace Galen, an MU professor of biological science and faculty director of MU ShowMe Nature GK-12, a program that connects elementary students with graduate students.

This is the age when students should become excited about science, Galen said. The students are about to enter middle school, and an increased enthusiasm for science will keep them interested, she added.

"The students are getting experience with what it's like at a university doing science," Galen said. "The activities are modeled after real research projects. For a day, the kids get to say, 'Let's be scientists and do what scientists do.'"

While the students examined plants in the greenhouse, Cathy Kiddoo asked about taking tours. Her son Ben, a fifth-grader at Midway Heights who loves plants, was busy crafting a paper flower pot.

Ben wants to be many things — scientist, wildlife conservationist, engineer and taxidermist. "Gardener" isn't on the list, but he's already earned $10 as a gardener by beating his grandmother in a tomato-growing contest.

"Ben likes science and math, though he'll tell you his favorite class is lunch," Kiddoo said.

As the students continued their experiment — examining the cell structures of plants under microscopes — Jordan and Midway Heights fifth-grader Michael Hernandez had a polite debate about the opening and closing of plants' cell structures.

"Plants are fascinating and weird at the same time," Michael said.

Michael said he learns best from hands-on experiments paired with studying research that scientists have already done. He wants to become one of those scientists one day.

"I want to study different kinds of diseases," Michael said. "I want to help people and learn how to help them."

The graduate students are also happy to work with their younger counterparts. They don't get a chance to talk about their research with non-scientists often, Galen said, and the GK-12 program gives them a chance to work on their communication.

"Even though I want to teach at the college level, I'm learning so much from teaching fifth-graders," Rachel Albert said, a doctoral student in anthropology and a GK-12 fellow. "I'm learning how to manage a classroom and techniques to see if they are really learning. And it is really fun. The students are great."

Supervising editor is Richard Webner.

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