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Students learn outside of the classroom through innovative UTSC science program

SCIENCE ENGAGEMENT: Students in the Science Engagement Service Learning Program took part in a symposium on April 1, when they talked about science placements that brought them out of the lecture halls to convey their love of science. (All photos by Ken Jones.)

by Eleni Kanavas

Students from the University of Toronto Scarborough took their science lessons out of the lecture hall recently -- volunteering at community centres, schools and other locations, or returning to class to help out in courses they had previously taken – as part of an innovative UTSC course that enables them to share their love of science.

Twenty students in the Science Engagement Service Learning Program created and presented posters representing their efforts to put their classroom learning into practice recently at a symposium held on April 1 in the Science and Research Building. For more photos from the symposium, click here. The posters illustrated and depicted the efforts and goals of the students during three-month placements from January to March this year. It was all part of their “service learning” program, a pedagogical approach which aims to link theory and practice.

The program aims to enhance the learning experience by providing opportunities for students to become active learners and apply concepts taught in the classroom. Some students pursued “outreach” projects by visiting community organizations with a science focus. Others participated in “in-reach” projects on campus, assisting in either research labs or classrooms as helpers in courses they have already completed, sharing their experiences with students currently in the course.

“Science Engagement gives students the chance to extend their learning outside of the classroom,” said Dr. Kamini Persaud, science engagement coordinator, Centre for Teaching and Learning and the department of biological sciences. “It’s an opportunity for students to explore possible career options and deepen their knowledge in a course and/or discipline.”

For her placement, second-year student Cassandra Rigillo volunteered to help in several different math and science classes, from Grades 9-12, at Cardinal Newman Catholic Secondary School in Scarborough.

“I enjoyed this new experience because it gave me confidence to teach students and build a relationship with a school that could be a potential teaching placement when I complete my degree,” she said. “I was also able to directly apply knowledge from my first-year math and biology courses at UTSC and better understand teaching methods.”

Danny Ray Dadula, a fifth-year student majoring in neuroscience and integrative biology, volunteered every Saturday with Visions of Science, a community outreach organization that operated out of a community centre in the Kingston-Galloway area of Scarborough.

“This was my first time doing this program and it was very exciting to work with elementary school children and demonstrate experiments on food density,” he said. “I learned how to approach students and get them engaged to participate in the science activity.”

Service learning is different from volunteer work because it is centered on academic knowledge development and is thus guided by discipline-specific learning goals, according to Persaud. Through experiential learning, students become engaged in and attain a deeper understanding of a particular discipline as concepts become more relevant. In addition to academic comprehension, service learning promotes critical thinking, communication and problem-solving skills as well as teamwork, creativity and initiative.

The placements give students exposure to the activities and expectations of those occupational fields as well as the hands-on experience that employers, graduate and professional schools value.

All placements are approximately five to seven hours per week of active involvement in a placement activity of choice. There is also an in-class component to the course where science engagement participants learn about service learning and the skills necessary to get the most out of their experience. Students in the course are required to carry out critical self-reflection by continually monitoring and assessing how their service enhances their own scholarship. Evaluation is based on self-reflective writing, engagement in class discussions and a project e-portfolio.

Science Engagement has been offered for three years at UTSC. It is available each term through the departments of Biological Sciences, Computer and Mathematical Sciences, Physical and Environmental Sciences, Psychology and the Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL). For more information about the Science Engagement Program, click here.  

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