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Partners in Education Outreach Program
Rice University-Texas Medical Center

Objective: To engage middle school students in science and to introduce students to science careers

Participants: middle school students, teachers, Sigma Xi members

Description: The Rice University-Texas Medical Center chapter of Sigma Xi established a relationship with Northbrook Middle School in Houston with the intention of supporting science education at the school. Northbrook Middle School has a diverse population with a high number of students receiving free or reduced lunch. It is a school that also has a very strong commitment to the use of technology in learning and was awarded National Exemplary Status in 1995. This combination of factors made the school a strong candidate for a partnership with the Sigma Xi chapter. The nature of the partnership is to have Sigma Xi volunteers either visit the school to offer lectures and demonstrations or to have the lectures broadcast from the Texas Medical Center to the school. The middle school and the Medical Center have the necessary equipment to allow direct dialogue between presenters in distant laboratories and teachers and students in special classrooms. This technology allows for the lectures/demonstrations to be videotaped and shown to other schools.

Additional considerations: Scheduling the lectures has been a bit difficult given the busy schedules of volunteers. The use of distance learning may ease the scheduling conflict. It is also been important to remind volunteers that the audience for their lecture/demonstration are middle school students that may have a limited understanding or background in science. It is better to cover less material but to ensure that what is covered is understood by the students. Concrete examples help students better understand the concepts. It's best if the middle school science teacher can talk with the volunteer ahead of time so that the topic of the lecture can fit into the teacher's lesson plan. If necessary, the teacher can provide background material for the students before the lecture/demonstration. Any visuals need to be adapted so that they broadcast well.

Cost implications and source of funds: The single largest expense is the technology to transmit the lectures. Texas Medical Center and Northbrook Middle School already had the technology in place for distance learning. It should also be noted that an educational outreach program is not dependent on the existence of distance learning technology, although scheduling issues may be more complex.

Time Commitment: This program has taken significant time to establish. The chapter has a retired member that has spearheaded the program. The time commitment for the volunteers giving lectures is much less: phone call with teacher, prep time for lecture/demonstration, lecture/demonstration.

Co-sponsors/Partners: Partners in Education, Time Warner Cable

Number of chapter members involved: One member to primarily coordinate the program and members who give lectures.

Outreach/Publicity: Working through Partners in Education, the chapter was able to contact the middle school to arrange the partnership. Any general publicity for the partnership is handled through the district's Partners in Education office.

Sigma Xi membership implications: This program doesn't have a membership recruitment aspect. However if the program is seen as a valuable service to the community, current Sigma Xi members may continue to renew their membership in order to support the program.

Checklist for School Partnership

  • Determine exactly what type of partnership the chapter is interested in having with school, including the time and financial commitment.
  • Contact school district offices. Often there is an office that handles volunteer or partnership opportunities.
  • Outline with the school district the time and financial commitment to which the chapter is willing to agree.
  • Work with the district to identify a school or schools that need the type of partners that the chapter has to offer.
  • After determining what activities are appropriate for the partnership, identify volunteers.
  • Prepare the volunteers ahead of time for the type of activity to take place and the level of understanding the students will process. Many chapter members have never worked with K-12 age students so be sure they adjust their activities.
  • Evaluate the specific activities and the overall program.
  • If appropriate, send press releases about the partnership to local and campus newspapers.
  • Organizations such as Partners in Education (www.napehq.org) can help with school volunteer programs.

Contact information: Eugene Brams, 713-462-8194

 

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