The new teaching and learning lab for education majors at Hofstra University resembled a grade-school science fair. Toy kittens in a basket suspended by pulleys taught about simple machines. Lessons on angles were demonstrated by tuning a guitar.
The idea behind the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math lab, known as a STEM studio, that was launched this month, is to show future elementary school teachers how to use such hands-on instruction in the classroom and better prepare them to teach math and science.
"All elementary teachers today need to be prepared to teach math and science more effectively," said Julia Caliendo, a Hofstra doctoral student and STEM lab director. "We want to make sure they are just not passive observers in a classroom."
The studio included a selection of tasks that covered math and science, such as moving an object along different surfaces to demonstrate friction. The projects were curriculum-based, to make sure the correct science concepts were taught to both the children and their student teachers.
The college students are observed by professors "to help them engage in the developmentally appropriate way with children," said Jacqueline Grennon Brooks, director of the Secondary Science Education programs and the IDEAS Institute at Hofstra.
Education majors earn credit for the program and, while the studio does not replace classroom visits outside the university, the setting does enhance the teaching experience, educators at Hofstra said.
President Barack Obama has called for improvements in science, technology, engineering and math education, with a goal of preparing 100,000 STEM teachers during the next decade.
In the Hofstra studio, elementary education senior Jessica Chalmers, 21, demonstrated with a variety of beakers and blue-tinted water how many ways one could measure 250 milliliters. She said she would take some of the lessons from the STEM lab into the classroom when she becomes a teacher.
"It's very interactive," she said. "It's more of a working experience, than observing in a classroom."
Grennon Brooks said the program also benefits the elementary students who are having fun while they learn.
Karla Guevera, 9, used a series of pulleys and strings to raise and lower the toy kittens in the baskets, in an exercise that demonstrated the way machines work.
Her teacher, Irma Suarez, said the students "love it."
"They all need this hands-on experience," she said.