In addition to getting ready for AGBT 2009, which starts next week (and which I'm really not ready for yet), I've spent time this week volunteering with the Morgen project
's community outreach effort. My involvement was confined to helping teach three grade 11 classes to kids in the I.B.
program at a local high school.
Last year, I helped out with a single class, where the lesson was planned and all I ended up doing was helping the kids with their computer problems and walking them through some of the database issues they faced while poking around the ensembl.org web site. I think the studens got something out of it, but it didn't really engage them and challenge them.
This year, in contrast, I was involved in the planning, the preparation and the teaching, so I was able to make a much greater contribution. Unlike last year, instead of a large group of researchers descending on a 60 minute class, this year it was two grad students (a colleague and myself) and a single program coordinator who went over for an 80 minute class, so we had a lot of freedom to try out new things and change the focus of the lesson a little - and expand on the cool stuff.
The first thing we modified was the overall lesson plan. Last year featured a half hour walk through and lesson on Ensembl - which would have been totally unusable a year later, considering all the changes that have happened on the ensembl.org web page over the past year - followed by a half hour for the students to work on a work sheet. Instead, we broke the lesson into four parts: a 15-minute "participatory" vocabulary exercise, a 15-minute walk through of the exercise sheet using different examples, a half hour for the students to work on their exercise sheets (with our help as required), and a 15 minute Q&A session.
Overall, the response was phenominal. The students were asked to fill in evaluation sheets, and the vast majority of the students (>80%) said that it had really helped them get a better grasp of the topic. (We received only one negative response out of 84 kids who filled in the sheet!) The questions we got during the Q&A session were neat - and some of them were off the wall, but really helped make the science more relevant to the students. I think the kids all walked away with a better appreciation of what scientists do, and why we do it.
At any rate, I've been debating whether I should try to write out a summary of the events and activities for other people involved in this type of program. It might make a nice resource - but it would be nice to know if anyone has any interest in it before I start working on it. Any takers?
Just to summarize, it was a tremendously rewarding activity, and I'm hoping that the program continues on next year. It might even make me want to include teaching in my future activities somewhere. (-;