BioBuds bring science outreach to local third-graders

Hands bolt into the air to answer a question during a 9 a.m. class. Some students are so excited to answer they don’t wait to be called on and blurt out the answer in excitement.

Rather than taking place in a lecture hall, these students are packed into small tables with coloring sheets and crayons. These are not Central Michigan University undergraduates — they’re members of Andra Pietrantonio’s third-grade class at Ganiard Elementary School.

“I wish sometimes that our upper level graduate courses had as much enthusiasm as those kids do,” said Seth Bensen, South Haven graduate student and BioBuds program coordinator.

The BioBuds program was developed in the Spring of 2012 by the Biology Graduate Student Association after being inspired by a visit from famed scientist Jane Goodall. She spoke at CMU about her own “Roots and Shoots” program, a youth-led community action program.

BioBuds takes CMU student volunteers into third-grade classrooms to teach children about biology-related topics through activities and engagement. Topics range from invasive species to soil and camouflage.

Volunteers were previously limited to biology graduate students, but the program has since been made available to junior and senior undergraduate biology students that have conducted lab work, Benson said.

The lesson on Nov. 18 at Ganiard Elementary was about camouflage.

Benson and Tim Palmer, a Frankenmuth graduate student, had half the class place color paper butterflies onto similarly colored objects and locations around their classroom after explaining what camouflage is and how animals use it in the wild.

The other half of the class was in the hallway while the butterflies were being hidden in plain sight by their classmates using camouflage. Once the butterflies were in place, they came back into the classroom to search for them.

One of the butterflies was hidden so well, the child who hid it had to reveal the location to the class. It was a green butterfly taped to a green backpack.

The BioBuds volunteers lectured for about five minutes on a topic, then gave the students an activity related to the topic, Benson said.

Mount Pleasant graduate student Megan Malish said she has volunteered her time to the program because “science outreach is important, especially to younger kids to get them interested.”

A BioBuds lessons usually lasts about forty minutes to an hour.

“I feel activities are the best way of learning,” Benson said. “We’re all very well versed in what it means to be a biology student compared to most. Their teacher is probably a better teacher than us, but maybe doesn’t have the time to go through and create these lesson plans for one specific science subject.”

Pietrantonio said she enjoys the program because it provides her students with hands-on activities that get the children up and moving.

Mount Pleasant doctoral student Rachel Hackett was involved in the first BioBuds committee and continues to volunteer with the program. The program is designed to inspire young scientists and show them “the real face of science,” she said.