By Hannah Ackermann
Georgia Tech scientists aren’t content with just making discoveries, they want to contribute to the community as well. That’s why this summer, Tonya Shearer, research scientist in the School of Biology, opened the Discover Science Center (DSC), a science enrichment lab serving the metro-Atlanta area.
“Teachers have a lot of topics to cover in class, and sometimes science gets left behind,” she said.
Shearer encourages the enthusiasm kids have for the sciences and hopes to educate the new generation in the arts and sciences with an engaging approach to learning.
“Kids are a lot smarter than we give them credit for,” said Shearer.
Rachel Whitmire, undergraduate student in the School of Biology and assistant at the DSC, said the kids are fascinated with the subject matter as the new facts they learn alter their perceptions of life around them.
“These kids bring such a wealth of knowledge. It is fun watching their opinions change,” said Whitmire.
The DSC also provides opportunities for teacher development, an important issue in Atlanta.
“Many teachers don’t even know how to use their classroom microscopes,” explained Shearer. “They can learn this skill and many more at the Discover Science Center.”
One important aspect of Shearer’s curriculum is the integration of art and science. For example, during Invertebrate Week the kids learned about how these organisms eat and reproduce. Then they made biology-inspired creative projects. They took what they learned about the adaptations and feeding mechanisms of invertebrates and created their own organism artifacts.
In the after-school programs, children learned about topics including fish, invertebrates, alien life, sea turtles, marine mammals and sharks. In the future, Shearer hopes to expand her programs to include other fields of science, such as physics and chemistry.
The DSC’s tanks house organisms including coral, anemones, crabs, sea stars, worms and live rocks. Shearer intends to enrich science education with marine biology. Because many of the topics in this field are globally relevant, it is easy to get the kids interested, said Whitmire. It also doesn’t hurt that kids love animals, she added.
Because it is outside of the school, the DSC has an informal learning environment. Kids not only learn about science, but also about the types of careers they can have in science. Whitmire is hopeful that these kids will want to get involved with research when they get older.
Shearer is in the process of training 14 teachers to teach this material to kids in classrooms all around Atlanta to expand the reach of the program. The DSC also offers home school classes and tutoring programs, as well as internships for high school and college students. These students will help to develop future programs for the kids, and cultivate a community lab for adult learning. The Discovery Science Center is a for-profit business located in Roswell, GA.