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Chemical Engineering Majors Test Their Teaching Skills at High School for Math, Science &Engineering
Start: 03/22/07
End: 03/27/09

GSOE-BuildingWhen Raymond Tu, Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering in The Grove School of Engineering at The City College of New York (CCNY), wanted some of his students to get teaching experience, he didn’t have to travel very far. The High School for Math, Science and Engineering at CCNY (HSMSE), housed across the street from The Grove School, was looking for an innovative way to incorporate units on chemical engineering into its Principles of Engineering class. “The idea was to get our students interested in teaching. Engineers rarely think about education (as a career),” said Professor Tu, who developed the curriculum in partnership with a departmental colleague, Assistant Professor Ilona Kretzschmar. “At the same time, we wanted to get HSMSE students interested in City College,”

The chemical engineering modules developed for the class by CCNY faculty and taught by four CCNY undergraduates illustrate the emerging collaborations between CCNY and HSMSE that have also resulted in high school students taking courses at CCNY for college credit. The high school, which has a specialized curriculum and requires entrance examinations, opened on the CCNY campus five years ago, and is one of three boutique high schools located on City University of New York campuses.

“We were really excited to have four role models from the engineering school teaching in our classes,” said Randell Barclay, who along with Thomas Henning teaches the Principles of Engineering course at HSMSE. “These young people are just a few years older than our students, so they can relate to them very well.”

The project kicked off last summer when Professors Tu and Kretzschmar and the four CCNY students, Artur Chrostowski, Annie Diaz, Saurabh Parikh and Karen Wright, began to research and develop units on fluid mechanics and thermodynamics for the Principles of Engineering course. Historically these topics were not covered in the class, although they are on the AP Physics and SAT-2 tests, Mr. Barclay noted.

At the start of the fall semester, the students sat in on Principles of Engineering classes at HSMSE to familiarize themselves with the course and how it was being taught. “We’d go to observe and get a feel for how the class works,” said Artur Chrostowski, a junior chemical engineering major.

Observing the classes also led the students to rethink how they would present the materials. “A lot of our original planning was wrong,” explained Saurabh Parikh, ’07, a senior chemical engineering major, who said the student teachers spent much time revising and refining lesson plans over the fall semester.

The four students divided into two two-member teams, each assigned to teach one topic. Each team created three 90-minute units that were presented over two sessions during the CCNY Winter Recess in January. They taught in three of HSMSE’s four sections of the Principles of Engineering course for a total of 18 different classes over the period.

“Teaching is a lot more difficult than perceived the first time,” Mr. Barclay added. “They (students) didn’t realize how much preparation and thought go into the process.”

One of the biggest challenges for the student teachers was adapting to the personalities of the different classes. “You’d see big differences from one group to another,” said Mr. Chrostowski. “In one group they asked a lot of questions, in another group they just listened and in the third they would show off and try to make trouble.” He added that he threatened to give a “pop” quiz when the class wasn’t paying attention.

Both student teachers gained from the experience. “Teaching gave me a lot of opportunities to make quick decisions,” Mr. Chrostowski said. “I gained a lot of skill in presenting in front of a large group of people for an hour and a half.”

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and very different from the corporate world,” said Mr. Parikh, who worked for a construction company before returning to college. “I will probably not have an opportunity in the near future to teach in an American high school.”

“It was fun to watch our students grow as well as the high school students,” added Professor Tu, who plans to continue the teaching program next semester and incorporate the lessons learned from the initial experience. “There is no way to understand what teaching is about until you do it.” He added that some of the high school students have come to The Grove School to seek out their former student-teachers for mentoring
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