Einstein Science Reporting for Kids
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Contact: Sean Nealon
University of California - Riverside

Professors and undergraduate students to teach solar energy to middle-school students

Unique course that blends engineering and education aims to draw students into science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) -- Two University of California, Riverside professors and three undergraduate students are partnering with Mira Loma Middle School in Riverside to teach about solar energy.

Elaine Haberer, an assistant professor of electrical engineering and materials science & engineering in the Bourns College of Engineering, Marsha Ing, an assistant professor in the Graduate School of Education, and three undergraduate students will teach 37 eighth-grade students during three classes this month.

"This interdisciplinary course is really unique," Ing said. "The undergraduate students study solar energy and explore methods to teach this particular topic to middle school students. In addition, the middle school students learn about a very timely topic while interacting with college professors and students."

The project is funded by a grant Haberer received from the National Science Foundation that aims to increase the number of engineers from underrepresented groups, including women, Hispanics and African-Americans. Another goal is to support innovative plans for recruiting and retaining a broad representation of researchers in programs supported by these grants.

Haberer and Ing are co-teaching the service-learning course, which started in January, through the Undergraduate Research in the Community program at UC Riverside. The professors and undergraduate students will develop, teach, assess and redesign lessons in solar energy.

The first class, on Feb. 11, will be an introduction to solar energy. During the next two classes, Feb. 18 and Feb. 25, the students will be learning about how different factors such as shade and angle influence the amount of energy generated from solar cells. These lessons will prepare the middle school students for an engineering design project on solar cars.

Haberer and Ing partnered with Mira Loma Middle School, which is part of the Jurupa Unified School District, because the mathematics and science teachers have a history of collaborating and due to the school's ties to UCR's Math Engineering Science and Achievement (MESA) Schools program, a nationally award-winning program designed to inspire students who come from educationally and/or economically disadvantaged circumstances.

UCR's MESA program serves more than 800 middle school and high school students from Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Teachers, such as those at Mira Loma Middle School, also receive training from UC Riverside faculty and staff through the MESA program.

Teachers at the school have also worked with UC Riverside's Alpha Center, which works with local school districts to improve performance in science and mathematics, to design the green science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) course, which includes the solar energy component.

Haberer, Ing and the three undergraduates will be working with one of Mary Ward's classes at Mira Loma Middle School. Ward is one of the school's teachers involved with the science plus program, which focuses on a STEM curriculum.

Learning about solar cells fits into the eighth-grade science curriculum, which introduces chemistry and physics, Ward said. Students have already completed a five-week research project using the periodic table of elements. They are also learning about the chemistry of clean air and clean water and the physics of energy transfer, she said.

Cindy Freeman, the principal at Mira Loma Middle School, is excited about the opportunities the class will provide to the middle school students.

"The goal is to create a pathway from middle school to high school to the university level with the goal that these kids come out with a STEM career," Freeman said.

The UC Riverside undergraduates, who all have an interest in K-12 STEM teaching, will also gain knowledge and experience.

Peter Huang, a junior electrical engineering major who went to San Gabriel High School, has a work study job at Hyatt Elementary in the Riverside Unified School District. Yahaira Martinez, a senior mathemathics major who went to Venice High School, and Nohemi Lacombe, a senior biology major who went to Temecula Valley High School, want to be secondary mathematics and science teachers.

Lacombe was excited by the class because it combines science and education.

"The class is interesting because I'll be able to learn about such a hot topic clean energy," Lacombe said. "And, I get into the classroom and get feedback to tune up my teaching skills."


***NOTE*** Reporters are welcome to come to the classroom on Feb. 18 or Feb 25 to observe the students learning about solar energy.