AWARD YEAR: 2021
DIRECTOR: MARK ENFIELD, PH.D.
PROJECT TITLE: ELON EXPLORERS
Elon Explorers encourages middle school students to develop understandings of science and science process skills through inquiry-based biology investigations. The proposed Elon Explorers project expands on two pilot years of summer-only programs that demonstrated program capacity to foster student enthusiasm for science and communicating their science understandings. The proposed project will expand Elon Explorers to a year-round program, engaging middle-school students in discussions of science in a community context, visits with professional scientists and undergraduate researchers, and field-based ecological studies of insects. The project includes monthly Science Cafés with students and their families, a one-day spring institute, and a week-long summer camp for up to 24 Alamance Burlington School System middle school students each year. Monthly Science Cafés, which we call Science Slices, provide recurring learning opportunities for students, will relate to students’ in-school learning during the academic year, and will occasionally include visiting experts (e.g. researcher or person from local science industry). The one-day spring-break institute will prepare students for sustained inquiry during an immersive week-long summer camp.
During the summer camp on the Elon University campus, students will observe, describe, and collect insects from different kinds of ecosystems in the North Carolina Piedmont. They will contribute to an ongoing, professional research study on the population genetics of a focal species. In addition to field experiences, students will curate museum-style insect collections to keep. Students will develop college and career readiness by engaging in campus-based summer programming with Elon’s Office of Admissions, interacting with high school students engaged in a college access program (Elon Academy), and meeting Elon Undergraduate Researchers. The week-long summer camp culminates with participants giving TED-talk style presentations on their learning. We hope, with permission, to house students’ presentations in an online digital library so that Elon Explorers become ambassadors about their learning to other students, teachers, and the public. The goals of the summer program are for students to: build enthusiasm and experience with the practice of science through field-based investigations, learn to make sense of observations and data, learn to communicate science findings, and, in the process, develop college and career readiness.