The Everlasting Impact of Hands-On Experience

Rylan Sensabaugh reflects on the lessons the Huang Fellows learned by creating their fourth-grade science kits.

Growing up in a rural town, I always yearned for a more enriched science education. However, my initial scientific curiosity was sparked in elementary school as I raised butterflies, watched “Bill Nye,” and made slime. These valuable experiences and experiments helped cement my basic scientific background that I still use today.

Amanda Bowers, Durham Public Schools K-5 Science Specialist, sparked nostalgia and creativity throughout her presentation as she introduced our task of creating affordable science kits for 4th graders at a local elementary school. Ms. Bowers’ passion for advancing science education was evident from her personal journey and enthusiasm. Since graduating college, she has been contributing to the science community. Some of Ms. Bower’s accomplishments include volunteering at the Museum of Natural Sciences, training as a Science specialist, advocating for an outdoor classroom at every school, and managing a Science Alliance.

“Ms. Bowers’ passion for advancing science education was evident from her personal journey and enthusiasm.”

One aspect of Ms. Bowers’ presentation that surprised me was the complexity and importance of creating a single lesson plan. As students, it is hard to comprehend the magnitude of what goes into preparing children for success while meeting all requirements. Public school teachers throughout Durham must follow state standards and the district-level curriculum to create daily lesson plans. What has made this task even more difficult is the fact that many students are two years behind in school due to the pandemic. Creating a lesson plan for students with different backgrounds and experiences can be difficult. However, Ms. Bowers offered helpful tips and resources such jamboard and the NC Essential Standards for Science that will make the planning smoother. Now, as we develop our lesson plans, we are readily prepared to adhere to curriculum requirements and create meaningful experiences for children from all backgrounds.

By far, one of the greatest takeaways from Ms. Bowers’ presentation was the importance of allowing students to make meaningful observations. Ms. Bowers walked us through an exercise where we watched a video of a frog making a loud noise. Instead of taking the video all in at once, we broke it down into three simple categories: I notice, I wonder, and it reminds me of. It was automatically evident how a simple task like this could be highly beneficial in explaining new topics such as sound waves to young students. Allowing students to make observations, form questions, draw, and reflect can accommodate everyone’s different learning styles. Designing a lesson plan around inquiry-based learning will be important when crafting science kits that are inclusive to all.

However, the most influential and exciting part of our professional development was when we used the sample science kits Mrs. Bowers brought. I was surprised by how a simple experiment with a marble resurfaced so many memories I have from 5th-grade science class. It was as if I was back in the classroom learning about speed and velocity again. It was soon apparent to me that throughout my life, I have carried these hands-on experiences and built upon them in driving my passion for science.

Ms. Bowers’ presentation and experience inspired me as I am passionate about expanding STEM education and opportunities for K-12, especially in rural areas. Ms. Bowers helped illuminate to us the importance of experiential learning. Now, as we go off to make our science kits, we can transport ourselves back in time and create interesting lessons that we would have enjoyed as children. As a result of Ms. Bowers’ expertise, we hope to create meaningful science kits for the 4th graders and inspire future scientists or even future Huang Fellows.

“It was as if I was back in the classroom learning about speed and velocity again.”

Rylan Sensabaugh, Huang Fellow ’25

Rylan SensabaughRylan is a pre-medical student from Cumberland, MD, intending to major in Biology and Psychology.