Unfortunately, many students in middle school (and beyond!) distinctly dislike science and, as a result, they never give science a chance. We believe that one reason for students’ dislike of science is the way in which it is frequently taught – as a collection of facts and knowledge to be memorized. Scientific researchers, however, recognize that science is much more than a series of facts - it is a way of discovering how and why things work. As a result, there is an increasing push to include inquiry-based activities in science classrooms to provide students with a better understanding of science and to engage their interest. Many science teachers, however, have not had the opportunity to experience science as a process and are thus at a disadvantage in teaching it. We sought to correct this by providing an opportunity for undergraduate students interested in becoming science teachers to participate in a research project. In 2007, Jessica Maciel, a senior in the Department of Zoology and future teacher, participated in Christine Stracey’s Ph.D. research project on the effects of urbanization on the Northern Mockingbird. Jessica assisted with mist netting, nest searching and monitoring, and nest observations on Northern Mockingbirds, an abundant bird in urban settings. Following this research experience, Jessica and Christine developed a series of lesson plans for seventh grade that used Jessica’s experiences with common urban birds. The first set of lessons introduced students to birds and wildlife through classroom activities and library research. The lessons culminated in an experiment designed by the students to test their hypotheses about how different species of birds use their bills to eat. Students set up different kinds of feeders (seed, suet, etc) in the schoolyard, generated hypotheses about which species would visit which feeders and conducted observations on the feeders to test their hypotheses.
The students were engaged in the feeder experiment and rose to the challenge when it did not initially work by modifying their experiment. They kept asking when the bird lady was coming back. Jessica gained valuable insight into the nature of science and became more open to allowing students to guide class experiments. Christine gained experience discussing her research with children and convincing a general audience why it is important. Christine plans on continuing to work with future science teachers. Therefore, we believe that pairing future science teachers with university researchers benefits all involved.