Teaching for Fun

Ignite Program brings children to campus to be college students for a day
Michele Regenold ’89

Since fall 2014, nearly 150 Grinnell College students have volunteered to teach workshops on campus to children from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. 

“I hope they discover something about teaching they didn’t know,” says Ashley Schaefer, Ignite Program coordinator and Lawrence S. Pidgeon Director of the Careers in Education Professions Program.

The Ignite Program began in the 2014–15 school year, offering classes on three different Saturdays last year — in November, February, and April. Attendance averaged 175 students for each day. For the first class in November 2014, they expected about 80 children but had 198 attend. 

In November last year, 256 children from Grinnell and the surrounding area participated. Classes included Dive into Archaeology, Iron Chef Grinnell, and Act Out Your Imagination in Improv 101. Children may take two different classes, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, and have lunch on campus. 

Classes are taught by teams of two or three College student volunteers. These volunteers, dubbed “teacher scholars,” write a course proposal that includes a brief description and lesson plan. About half the teacher scholars are in the education program.

Schaefer meets with each team to review lesson plans. She emphasizes that the nearly 2-hour class isn’t a lecture and discussion. “It’s a workshop,” she says. “If you’re doing something with chocolate, the kids will expect to eat some chocolate.”

Cassandra Miller ’16, a biology major from Las Vegas, N.M., developed and taught Fun with Fungi last year for third and fourth graders. She chose that topic because she was taking a fungal biology course that she loved with Kathy Jacobson, associate professor of biology. 

In November 2015 Miller adapted her class for first and second graders. “I wanted to see what would happen,” she says. Her favorite part is trying to make the science accessible to young children. 

One of the activities, “fungal detective,” involved using microscopes and dried specimens. It was the first time many of these children had used a microscope. They could see the gills, pores, and teeth of their specimens. “They appreciate mushrooms more,” Miller says. 

Offered free of charge, the Ignite Program is sponsored by local philanthropists Helen Redmond and Pete Brownell, the College’s Office of Community Enhancement and Engagement, and the Careers in Education Professions Program.

The program was modeled on other colleges’ programs that bring high school students to campus for a day to experience classes. Schaefer wanted to start with the young kids. “The number of opportunities for academics for little kids was small,” she says. “This is the only opportunity for our students to teach elementary school students.”

In April the program is expanding to high school students. Even though Miller doesn’t intend to become a K–12 teacher, she’ll participate again. “I think education will always play a role in my future,” she says. 

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