Hands-on learning with Discovery U
Published on Monday, April 30, 2018
By: Karen Bascom
The sound of clanging metal echoed through the Mississippi Children’s Museum as Finley Sumrall dropped an artificial hip joint on the floor.
“It’s a good thing it didn’t break,” said the Northshore Elementary student.
It was a perfect moment for Haden Johnson to talk about materials testing with a first-grader.
“If it breaks, then the part’s not doing its job. That’s why it important to test them first,” said Johnson, a first-year biomedical materials science student from the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
Students from six School of Graduate Studies in the Health Sciences Ph.D. programs took a break from lab and class work Friday morning to engage local children at Discovery U Day. Through games, demonstrations and experiments, they taught more than 360 students from four elementary schools, plus other museum visitors, about the human body and medicine.
In past years, the event has been held on Saturdays. By moving it to Friday, the program could reach entire classrooms, said Dr. Michael Ryan, SGSHS associate dean and program director.
Discovery U is the SGSHS’s education and research outreach initiative for kindergarten through college students. This includes the Discovery U high school program, where Clinton and Madison High School students observe laboratory research at UMMC and learn about careers in the biomedical sciences. Discovery U also supports Physiology Understanding Week, Summer Undergraduate Research Experience and the School of Dentistry’s UPSTART Program.
But Friday, the focus was on reaching some of the Jackson-metro area’s youngest pupils.
At one table, cell and molecular biology Ph.D. students helped a group from Pecan Park Elementary smash strawberries, mix them with detergent and rubbing alcohol, and extract a slimy sample of DNA.
Ciara McKnight, a first-year student in the program, said it’s important to make science understandable for the kids.
“I describe DNA to them as a personal alphabet,” she said. “It’s what makes a person unique and what makes a strawberry unique.”
Some of the demonstrations make great classroom or at-home activities, like scooping water from one bucket to another to learn about how hard the heart works to pump blood. Others, like looking at a rat brain through a strong microscope, only happen when someone else can provide supplies and expertise.
“Here, these children can use tools that they would never find in their own schools,” said Patti Reiss, MCM director of museum experiences. “We love Discovery U because it is an opportunity for kids to learn about health science careers outside of being doctors or nurses.” For many students, it’s likely their first chance to meet a real scientist.
Ryan added that counting the teachers and chaperones that come with the children, “we have 100 other adults here today learning about these careers.”
The graduate students also get something out of the event.
“Activities like Discovery U help students develop an appreciation for service and science outreach,” Ryan said.