The ReSET Program

Founded by Dr. Harold Sharlin, the ReSET volunteer program has operated successfully in the Washington D.C. area since 1988. A large percentage of the K-6 students the program serves are children from low-income households who attend inner-city schools. By introducing elementary schoolchildren to unique and engaging experiences with science and math, the ReSET program provides students with learning opportunities they do not receive in their regular classwork. The hope is that their experiences working with ReSET volunteers will encourage them to think more positively about science and math, to select them as electives when they reach high school, and to consider a future career in a math or science-related field.

ReSET volunteers spend six hours of classroom time each term teaching children hands-on science through in-class exercises and inquiry-based experiments, followed by a field trip to a science laboratory or museum. For example, a ReSET volunteer recently escorted his class to Goddard Space Center to visit “The Clean Room,” where technicians repaired and refurbished the Hubble Space Telescope. All of the senior scientists and engineers who volunteer for ReSET develop their own experiments, in collaboration with their teachers, for the six periods they are in the classroom. Volunteers also provide vocational guidance. They share with the children how one becomes a scientist/engineer, and what kinds of jobs they’ve had. Among our current volunteers are a physical anthropologist, a dentist, a water quality engineer, and an electrical circuit designer.

Volunteers reinforce and enhance the classroom teaching of science, and also consciously design exercises and experiments in support of the applicable K–12 Science Standards for the District of Columbia, Montgomery and Baltimore Counties in Maryland, and Arlington County in Virginia. For example, one volunteer, a former chemist, teaches a unit on polymers and gives the children specific scientific tasks—one child prepares the solution, another measures the varying lengths of a polymer fiber with a yardstick, and a third records the results in a notebook. In this way, the volunteer encourages the children to think and behave like scientists. Another volunteer complements a teacher’s Earth Sciences unit by discussing with the children what they can learn about early (Neanderthal) man’s height, posture, and appearance, based on the muscle markings of the bones. Recently, a teacher in one of ReSET’s schools expressed how pleased he was that the volunteer, a Statistician formerly with the Bureau of Labor Statistics, had covered the concepts of chance and probability with the children, as questions on probability and graphing were included on the standardized math tests that year.

In 2007 ReSET conducted 25 sessions in eight elementary schools. A number of these sessions were taught by first-year volunteers who had completed the ReSET preparatory program. These include a mechanical engineer, a medical doctor, and a meteorologist, who brought new areas of science expertise to ReSET’s array of professional fields. ReSET also added a new school to its roster in 2007/08, and, with recruiting and training support, anticipates adding three schools this year.

One of ReSET’s long-term goals is to produce a citizenry that is prepared to effectively participate in public decisions on issues of science and society. Another is to increase the size and diversity of the future scientific workforce in the U.S. by stimulating interest among young people in pursuing related academic and professional careers.

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