Graduate students from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville visited Greenback School last week to teach sixth-grade students about science through a series of workshops related to ecosystems, DNA and termites.

“We are all part of the outreach committee under our graduate student organization called (graduate researchers in ecology, behavior and evolution),” Miranda Chen, graduate student, said.

Sixth-grade students rotated between three workshops, while working in groups and performing hands-on tasks, which included extracting DNA from bananas, watching termites follow different ink colors and building miniature ecosystems.

After visiting the UT campus for a field trip, Amy Finch, sixth-grade math and science teacher, spoke with graduate students who wanted to teach science to middle school students.

“Anytime you can have students active and working with their hands, it is beneficial and helps them to make connections with the concept,” Finch said. “They will remember these lessons much better than if they were reading it in a textbook. I also think this makes learning fun.”

Finch said students enjoyed each of the activities.

“My students loved the lessons and activities brought in by the UT students,” Finch said. “They liked the lessons and activities, but they really enjoyed working with the young energetic (graduate) students. Many of my students said they now want to become scientists, which is exciting.”

Finch said she looks forward to inviting the group back to work alongside students and encouraged other science teachers to do the same.

“The whole process was really fun for me,” Chen said. “I enjoy teaching. ... I was the one who was able to put together the curriculum. It was nice to brainstorm with the team of how we wanted to teach in the 40 minutes we had, which presented a time crunch. I enjoyed interacting with students during the day of the activity, and I loved hearing what they had to say. I would never anticipate what some of them would think.”

Chen said although each of the UT students’ research projects focused on different subjects, her doctoral work is on education research.

“They really bring great joy to me and remind me there’s a lot of joy in the world,” Chen said about the middle school students at Greenback. “... I think I draw from their joy, and it kind of heightens their enthusiasm. I feed off of them in a way.”

Fifth- and sixth-grade English language arts and social studies teacher Whitney Cox said the afternoon activities provided an opportunity for students to learn about things they are not normally exposed to, while extending classroom learning.

“The kids loved it,” Cox said. “I have not heard any complaints. We would gladly have the UT students back again.”