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The Scarlet & Black

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Ignite Program allows college students to teach Grinnell youth


This Saturday, Nov. 22, over 200 students from middle and elementary schools from surrounding towns will arrive on campus in the morning to take classes taught by Grinnell students. This is part of the Ignite Program, in which students of the College can opt to teach Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) related classes to a group of children between pre-kindergarten and eighth grade.

“The Ignite Program started this summer to mimic Splash programs I’ve heard of at other institutions. Splash programs are a chance for college students to create courses that local kids can then take on a Saturday,” said Ashley Schaefer, Director of the Grinnell Careers in Education Professions Program. 

The focus of the Ignite Program was on younger children because the College wanted to broaden its support in the community. “The local high school already gets a lot of support from the College, and I wanted to expand our outreach,” Schaefer said.


Classes taught by Grinnellians are based in STEM topics but are also meant to be interesting to children. Grinnell College student teachers had the liberty to design their course structure and material. Some classes include Crazy Colorful Chemistry, May the Force be with You: Physics, The Science of Harry Potter and It’s not just Science, it’s Rocket Science, where students can build rockets.

“Students were allowed to enroll into which class they wanted. The idea was that they could mimic what a college student has, that they could choose what they want to take,” Schaefer said. All of the classes are also taught on campus, with the purpose of helping the students to feel more like college students.

This Saturday there will be 213 kids taking 12 classes. “We filled the Pre-K [and] kindergarten classes up within the first hour and a half,” Schaefer said.

And classes are free so the program is available to students regardless of income, according to Schaefer.

Children enroll from over an hour away to take the classes as part of the Ignite Program.

“Every class is full,” Schaefer said. Grinnell children can take student-taught STEM courses up to three times a year for free.

Students teaching courses had to have their course proposals approved and have background checks performed. Once they are in the room with the kids, however, they are not being supervised and are independently teaching the class. “The course proposal should have the class set, it’s a lesson plan. It’s a 15 minute by 15 minute plan. That can change after discussion, but we don’t want just an idea in the proposal, the class needs to be well thought out,” Schaefer said.

For Kate Will ’17, who will be teaching a course on ecosystems with Oscar Venegas ’16,  she had to revolve her course around how to keep her fourth-graders excited during class.

“First we thought of activities, then we thought about how we can construct a course around those activities,” Will said.

Starting next semester, the program will be recruiting student teachers for its February classes, which have a humanities-related theme. April will also be hosting courses teaching about cultural differences. “Students will come up with a course proposal … I’ve met with them to finalize the proposals,” Schaefer said. The College also buys all the necessary supplies.

The current student teachers have gone over course plans thoroughly and have had several orientation nights preparing them for this Saturday. “We hope though that by [participating in the Ignite Program] students will be more excited about the prospect of going into teaching,” Schaefer said.

Will noted that the program was equally beneficial to her as well as her students.

“I think you get a whole new perspective when you have to teach something as opposed to just learning about it. It was also an important experience to learn how to create a budget and create a course,” Will said.

“[The Ignite Program] is to get kids excited about the college experience, and to get them excited about certain fields, in this case STEM. They’re going to learn and have fun at the same time,” Schaefer said.

—Steve Yang ’17 contributed additional reporting.

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