A new internship with the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles (NHMLA) and the STEM Teachers in Advanced Residency (STAR) program in the College of Education at California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) is giving teacher candidates additional classroom tools to excite young students about the sciences.
Cristina Gonzalez (’13, B.A. Liberal Studies) and LeiLani Zaragoza (’15, B.A. Liberal Studies) were among the first to take part in the two-month internship in the summer of 2017. During the program they were immersed in active local fossil and other geological research going on behind the scenes at NHMLA to help create and develop units of instruction, or lesson plans, which Gonzalez and Zaragoza have already integrated into their teaching techniques.
“Our job was to look at next-generation science standards ideas … and see how we could use those ideas to create lessons with different activities for students that relate to those standards,” said Gonzalez, who is a fifth grade teacher at Florence Griffith Joyner Elementary School in Watts. “The museum’s goal is to expose students to their research findings in the classroom, because it’s currently very hard for kids to go on field trips to museums.”
For Gonzalez, the biggest takeaway from the internship was “collaborating with classmates,” and utilizing resources in their community to “construct something meaningful for students.” Zaragoza and her internship partner thought “outside the box” to develop their units of instruction for their students.
“It was a lot of extra work, but our end product was awesome, and what we were able to create for the classroom was really worth it,” said Zaragoza, a first grade teacher at Meyler Street Elementary School in Torrance. “We learned how to do the basics, and about cleaning out the fossils, which was my favorite part of it. It was very relaxing.”
As part of their internship, Gonzalez and Zaragoza were invited to the Geological Society of America’s annual meeting to present a poster that showcased the CSUDH-NHMLA partnership, as well as the units of instruction lesson kits they created.
“We shared the details of our lesson units, focusing on the lesson that we had made the kit for,” said Gonzalez. “But everyone was intrigued and curious to know how the university’s partnership with the Natural History Museum partnership came about.”
The opportunity to participate in the NHMLA internship would not have happened if Gonzalez and Zaragoza were not in the STAR program at CSUDH, which is designed to address the need for highly qualified math and science teachers to improve primary and secondary math and science instruction. Open to recent graduates and career professionals with a background in math and science, STAR is an intensive dual teaching certificate and master’s program that includes a year-long mentored teaching residency and clinical experience in the STEM Lab School.
“I think the STAR program is one of the greatest decisions I’ve ever made,” according to Zaragoza. “I used to work at Rite Aid while going to school, and didn’t like it. When I joined the program, they were very supportive; they found me a job in something I love to do, tutoring. From that, my life has just been rolling steadily toward my end goal, which is teaching.”