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STARBASE, Oakland University launch teacher training partnership

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Dan Heaton
  • 127th Wing Public Affairs
Long known for igniting an interest in science and technology in elementary school students, the STARBASE program at Selfridge Air National Guard Base is now helping to train future school teachers in how to bring that same passion for science into their everyday classroom.

STARBASE has begun working with the School of Education at Oakland University to allow university students to spend time working with the elementary students at STARBASE.

First developed at Selfridge more than 20 years ago and now operating at military installations across the country, the local STARBASE facility brings some 1,500 students per year from area school districts on a rotating basis to the schoolhouse on the base. There, students are immersed in five days of highly-focused science and technology experiments and projects. STARBASE instructors use large mock-ups of the space shuttle, a rocket module, space suit and similar items as the settings for some of the instruction. Another 200-300 students attend summer camps at STARBASE, further advancing their knowledge in those subjects. About 90 percent of the students who participate in STARBASE programming are in the 5th grade.

Beginning this school year, about a half dozen Oakland University students who are in advanced teaching classes are spending several days as classroom instructors at STARBASE. Several dozen more beginning students at OU are spending a few days as classroom observers.

"This is all based on feedback from teachers who have brought their students to STARBASE over the years," said Mark Muzzin, deputy director and an instructor at STARBASE. "The teachers were telling us that they didn't have the comfort level with science . We began to ask ourselves, 'What can we do to empower more teachers?'"

STARBASE leaders initiated the program with OU at the beginning of the current school year, in September 2014.

"Perhaps more than anything, our students gain a sense of confidence in their ability to learn and teach high-level science concepts," said Timothy Larrabee, associate professor of teacher development and educational studies at OU. "With the careful, thoughtful mentoring they receive, our students are supported all the way through their teaching experience with STARBASE. Our students are encouraged to take chances knowing that their support team is always on hand to get them out of a bind. Such risk taking supports our students' professional growth as they try new teaching strategies and learn what does or doesn't work for students."

Muzzin said the freedom to occasionally make mistakes is paramount to science and science education.

"That's how we learn," he said. "We try things and see what works - and also what doesn't. As our students work through their assignments, a lot of times their first try at an experiment doesn't work. We try to show them that it is OK to fail and to use what they learned to move toward the right answer."

On a recent March morning, OU junior Jackie Hopkins was leading a class of six students on a mission to determine who "stole" some cookies from a classroom - and left a "ransom note" for the cookies. The students used the forensic science of chromatography to test the ink in the ransom note and attempt to determine who the thief was.

The students recovered several pens that may have been used to write the note. Taking careful notes along the way and working in small teams, they learned that the ink in the pen is a mixture and learned how mixtures can be examined.

"This is taking a subject that sounds boring - chromatography - and turning it into a project the students enjoy," said Hopkins. "It's also a chance for me to see what keeps the students interested and what doesn't."

Hopkins expects to begin student teaching next school year and then hopefully begin her career as a teacher after that. The goal is for her to take some of the ideas she's picked up at STARBASE into her future career.

"By learning and teaching science in a carefully scaffolded supportive environment, our students gain the confidence and skills they need to assume leadership of their own classrooms," Larrabee said.

According to Muzzin, only about 10 percent of the people who graduate from college with a teaching degree become certified as a science instructor.

"So working with future teachers becomes a logical extension of working with our students," he said. "We are always looking for new ways to inspire and encourage people to look at math and science not as something to be afraid of, but something to engage with." 

About Selfridge Air National Guard Base
One of the oldest military air fields in continuous service, the military first took possession of Selfridge Air National Guard Base on July 1, 1917. The first military flight at the base took place on July 8 and formal flight operations began on July 16, 1917. Today the 127th Wing of the Michigan Air National Guard is the host unit at the base, which also houses units of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection.