Aspiring educators explore new ways to teach refugee children

Dec 23, 2013

Several Buffalo State College students recently taught science lessons to city children from different cultural backgrounds. The college students ended up learning some lessons themselves.

The nine education majors taught science lessons at Buffalo State’s Community Academic Center, located on the city’s West Side. The center, which opened a few years ago, was created to foster the educational needs of the local immigrant and refugee population.

Young students learn science at Buffalo State's Community Academic Center.

Associate Professor of Science Education at Buffalo State Dr. Robin Harris says the aspiring educators taught children of all ages.

“They were supposed to be fourth grade through eighth grade, but when people came, if the whole family came, we didn’t turn anyone away,” said Harris.

Harris helped shape the lessons that her service learning students taught. The group worked with children who all spoke different languages for eight weeks. Senior and Elementary Education Major at Buffalo State College Kirby Coffman says they faced a lot of barriers, but the group figured out how to cater their lessons to meet everyone’s needs.

“The key link that I found is pictures, illustrations [and] drawings, because there’s no language with that. It’s hard sometimes. Because of the child’s cultural background, they might not now know what specific drawings are, like a bicycle. Some kids have never had a bike before. They don’t know what a bike is. So, it’s definitely challenging, but it’s also rewarding when they do get it and you see them smile and light up,” said Coffman.

The college students also communicated the scientific concepts utilizing the arts. They acted out the metamorphosis of a butterfly during one lesson using music and interpretive dance. Harris says she chose to teach science because it’s the most hands-on subject.

“Science allows you to question and then there’s a process for you to seek answers. It allows you to wonder. It allows you to learn about yourself and how your body functions, the natural environment and how everything works together. And besides that, in physics, we have the best toys in the world,” said Harris.

Coffman says it was rewarding to connect with children from all walks of life.

“It was really fun. I really liked it, but ESLs, which English as a second language are, and ELLs, which are English language learners, both of them are extremely prevalent in education system in Buffalo. It was really good for me to get a good initial grasp of what I’m going to be challenged with in the classroom,” said Coffman.

Dr. Harris says the project was so successful she plans to have her next service learning class teach at the center, as well.