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Two-way learning experience

Super Saturday program benefits children and soon-to-be teachers

Contact: Dan Digmann

A video showing schools of fish swimming in the ocean mesmerized the prekindergarten and kindergarten children standing in the classroom.

It was the third and final session of Central Michigan University’s Super Saturday program to enrich science and math skills for interested mid-Michigan elementary children.

“That looks like Dory!” one of the girls shouted as she recognized the real-life blue tang fish featured was similar to the animated character in “Finding Nemo” and “Finding Dory.”

“It does look like Dory,” confirmed instructor Jessica Renfro, a CMU elementary education major interested in teaching integrated science. “It’s cool to see there are real fish that look like that, isn’t it?”

That was exactly what Renfro and the six other volunteer CMU student instructors were looking for in the weekly sessions they led for the 65 elementary children enrolled this fall: children having so much fun they didn’t realize they were learning.

It was the fifth year for the Super Saturday program, which CMU’s Great Explorations in Math and Science Center coordinates for three weekends each fall and spring. Super Saturday includes courses related to science and mathematics and emphasize creativity, problem-solving, critical thinking and independent learning.

“What I love about teaching elementary schoolchildren is that they still are young enough to be curious about everything,” said Renfro, a senior from Midland. “We want to make everything hands on so they’re doing something fun and that they’re getting something out of it.”

The original intent for Super Saturday was to create a math and science enrichment program to benefit area prekindergarten through fifth grade children, said Jim McDonald, GEMS Center director and CMU professor of science education. Program coordinators soon discovered the activities also benefited aspiring educators.

“It helps our education students get experience and develop their math and science teaching strategies,” he said. “School district administrators are looking to hire graduates who have hands-on experiences. This program provides them such opportunities.”

In addition to teaching, Renfro also served as program co-coordinator along with Allison Short, a senior elementary education major from Clinton Township who is interested in teaching mathematics. Renfro managed and facilitated events throughout the weeks of the program — which ran from 9 a.m. to noon three Saturdays in October — and then cotaught her class with freshman child development major Isabella Staltari.

“I’m the type of person who has to do something before I know if I’ll enjoy it long term, so any experience working with children I can get at the undergrad level is important to me,” said Staltari, who is from Goshen, Indiana. “Through my experience with Super Saturday, I gained valuable exposure to children that will help me reach my goals."

For Short, who previously served as an instructor, this marked the third time she served as Super Saturday coordinator. In addition to recruiting volunteer instructors and managing their classroom requests, she facilitated communications and interactions with participating children and their parents.

Reflecting on their collective experiences as program instructors and coordinators, Short and Renfro both agreed they are more interested in the role of classroom instructor rather than program coordinator. They said this demonstrated to each of them that they want to become teachers and not administrators.

“I love kids and just always knew I wanted to be a teacher,” Short said. “I could do any other job with kids and be happy, but I know I’ll be the happiest teaching because I, like young children, am a curious person who likes to learn new things. I want to give that back to them and help them to learn.”

The next Super Saturday program is scheduled for Feb. 11, 18 and 25, 2017.

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