About five years ago, the Berkeley Engineering Resources Collaborative (BERC) was born out of the collaborative minds of energy- and resource-interested students in the Haas School of Business. The founding goal of BERC was to promote collaboration among different departments and organizations at UC Berkeley. Today the Collaborative draws on mind-power from all over the UC Berkeley campus as well as Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL).
The efforts of BERC extend beyond the higher-education and research community, however, with a unique outreach effort underway in local elementary schools: Students for Environmental Energy Development (SEED). SEED is run entirely by a group of science and engineering graduate students. Together, they have fully developed two complete after-school curricula: one on energy and one on water. During the school year, this same group of graduate students implements their lesson plans in classrooms at various schools in the Berkeley/Oakland area.
SEED curriculum development has been led by Maria Schriver, a mechanical engineering graduate student who did Teach for America at Oakland Technical High School before commencing her studies here at UC Berkeley.
The first curriculum, called Energy, was designed with basic science and awareness objectives in mind, including concepts like “What is energy?” and “What are the differences between traditional and alternative energy resources?” After initial success with the program in the 2008-2009 school year, SEED graduate student teachers designed their second curriculum, Water. This one explores the water cycle and the impact of pollution on water resources.
The main challenge in designing and teaching these curricula is to introduce students to basic scientific thinking while keeping the material engaging. Many of the 4th and 5th graders in the program have less than an hour of science lessons per week, and by 4 pm their attention spans are even shorter than usual. To assess the program’s efficacy, SEED gives a subject-related science test at both the beginning and end of the program. Overwhelmingly, students report that their favorite part is their final project, the poster presentation.
The graduate student teachers have fun, too! Jay James, also a graduate student in mechanical engineering, was all smiles when talking about his experience as a SEED teacher this past year. “It’s my favorite thing all week.”
For the 2010-2011 school year, SEED plans to re-teach Energy, based on its success two years ago. All classes will be taught with 4th and 5th grade students in Oakland public elementary schools. Currently the program has about 10 graduate students volunteer-teaching each semester. Each graduate student teacher commits one afternoon per week for the entire semester plus time for a final poster session at UC Berkeley.
Think you would like to get involved with SEED? Contact the program administrators at: seed[dot]berc[at]gmail.com
SEED is funded by BERC, and by Graduate Assembly outreach/education grants, which are available to registered graduate student clubs by application and award up to $1500 per year.