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Since 1994, university has helped instill science literacy in local youths.

PMG PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - Young students attempt to listen to their heart and lungs using stethoscopes during a recent class.

These days many K-12 schools are lacking resources for science education. George Fox University is helping fill those gaps via its Science Outreach Program.

Through the program, public school and homeschool teachers can borrow equipment and supplies for their classrooms or homes free of charge, while students ages 6 to 14 can enroll in on-campus youth science classes. GFU undergraduates majoring in science and education teach the courses, providing them with valuable learning opportunities as well.

"It's a great experience on both sides," Lexi Ross, a senior biology student at GFU, said about the youth science courses.

Ross, who is co-teaching a class on the heart, said her goal is to become a physician assistant and potentially specialize in pediatrics. She anticipates this gig will help her practice teaching her patients about their health.

"Combing my love for teaching and science is an opportunity that I couldn't pass up," she said.

Student teachers are trained in lesson planning, classroom management and presentation, and remain in close communication with the program's director in order to lead a successful class.

"It's challenging to put curriculum together that's simple enough for a 9-year-old to understand," Grace Ammon, Ross's co-teacher, said. "So, (teaching) makes it so Lexi and I really understand what we're talking about. Being able to describe really complicated topics in simple ways has been beneficial for our learning."PMG PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - Grace Ammon, a GFU senior biology major, teaches a class called 'Beating and Breathing.'

Ammon, who is also a senior GFU biology student, plans on becoming a naturopathic doctor. Like Ross, her career path will require her to teach patients how to live healthier lifestyles.

Fall classes started in mid-October and will run through Nov. 14, with students meeting once a week for six weeks. Courses change every semester, exploring concepts in environmental science, biology, chemistry, physics and computer science. Each class is experiential, lab-based, hands-on and staffed with two GFU student teachers who can work one-on-one with children.

"Not only are kids exposed to new topics, but they're able to use models that kids don't really interact until they're in college -- different models, experiments, everything like that," Ammon said. "We just give a lot of opportunities for kids to be exposed to things they wouldn't get before."

In the 'From Seed to Plant' class this fall, children age 6 to 8 are learning about a plant's lifecycle. During 'Beating and Breathing,' 9 and 10-year-olds study the heart's anatomy and physiology. 'You Are What You Eat' teaches 12- to 14-year-olds about the four main biomolecule types: carbohydrates, lipids, proteins and nucleic acids. Finally, the 'Fun with Chemistry' three-week course introduces chemistry and chemical reactions to students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

"I've honestly been so surprised by how inquisitive they are and how receptive they are to topics that are so complex," Ross said. "It's really cool to see. It's something I wish I had when I was younger, and to see them so interested and so engaged is really fun."

The next round of youth classes begins in the spring, and, if next year is anything like years past, many kids will return.

"I think what's really fun, especially for homeschoolers, is it introduces them to new people," Ammon said. "Today we did a team bonding activity and they had to work together at their tables. It starts planting the seeds of teamwork and enjoying new experiences."

The Science Outreach Program is funded by a grant from the MJ Murdock Charitable Foundation and its goal was to help community educators more effectively teach science to children.

"The first day, we ask them what they want to be when they grow up, and half of them want to be doctors, scientists, biologists," Ammon said. "It's really cute to see all their dreams and hopefully we'll play a little part in that."

Teachers looking to borrow science resources -- including telescopes, 3D models, skeletons and hundreds more items -- can reserve them at georgefox.edu/science outreach/equipment.html. Loan hours are 2 to 4:30 p.m., Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.


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