K. Hunding is a science educator at a science museum in Minnesota. She teaches a culturally diverse group of students ranging from pre-school to high school age, and spends anywhere between 30 minutes and 3 weeks with each group of students. Ms. Hunding has been teaching in this capacity for 20 years. Ms. Hunding enrolled in the online course in Winter 2005 because she was interested in learning more about genetic engineering and wanted to update her knowledge of the rapidly changing field of genetics.
Gaining a new understanding of her role: Inspiring students to learn more. As part of the SoS course, teachers design a lesson for their final project. One of the unexpected benefits of the course for Ms. Hunding was that in deciding on her final project, she came to a new understanding of how she could best use her limited time with students at the museum.
As I started putting this project together, I tried to figure out how I was going to make it useful for me. I could just pretend that I had a regular classroom, but I didn't want to do that. I always felt frustrated because I have these kids for such a short time and I don't want to become an entertainer. I figured out in the SoS course that my job is not to be entertaining, but to light that little spark and get kids thinking 'hey, that fun thing that we did at the museum... I want to know more.' It was like a big light went off and suddenly the frustration I felt about not having kids for very long was gone. That was really one of the best things about the whole experience.
Gaining a new teaching tool: A model of a nucleus and DNA. For her final project, Ms. Hunding developed a teaching tool that would not only help students understand DNA better but would convey to them the miracle of DNA.
I have to do these DNA courses that are just DNA extraction from cheek cells and it is such an abstract thing for kids. So I made a model—I took a plastic egg to stand for the nucleus of the cell and then I measured out 6 feet of yarn, because you have 6 feet of DNA in every cell of your body that has a nucleus. It is sort of a graphic example to show kids and you can see jaws drop. While that doesn't necessarily convey some amazing understanding of it all, it is that spark thing that I am looking for, that you have this incredible thing going on inside of you and what else do you want to know about it?
Gaining more confidence in teaching genetics: Updating content knowledge. The SoS course updated Ms. Hunding's knowledge of genetics and helped her to feel more confident teaching it.
I do feel more confident in my genetics knowledge now. Things change so fast that sometimes before when I would teach a course on DNA, I would worry that maybe I was presenting the wrong information—for example, for the numbers of genes that we have. At the science museum, you kind of have to be on top of the science. Otherwise, teachers and parents are going to say 'why didn't you know that?' The course has helped me be more confident that my knowledge is current.
Exposure to different points of view through course essays and online discussions. Ms. Hunding particularly enjoyed the different points of view she was exposed to while taking the SoS course since it is her job to provide students with objective information.
I liked the different points of view because that is part of my job, to try and include everything that I can possibly think of. There were a lot of essays that would explain concepts and then present the good things and some of the criticism. You got to make your own judgments. Then the discussion format with the other students was good too. Some people would just say things I never thought of.
Building bridges between museum educators and classroom teachers. Ms. Hunding felt the course provided an opportunity for museum educators and classroom teachers to better understand each other's role.
The web classes are valuable because they bring people together who wouldn't be together. I like listening to classroom teachers to find out how I could help with what they are dealing with, even though I have students for such a short time. Hopefully they can see my perspective, too.
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