Summer: Sun, Fun, and Science

Thursday, July 25, 2013
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UNH Manchester biololgy teaching assistant Zaynav Mahmod from Jordan assists Tan Dao from Vietnam precipitate his DNA sample during UNH Manchester's Summer EXCELL Program.

UNH Manchester biololgy teaching assistant Zaynav Mahmod from Jordan assists Tan Dao from Vietnam precipitate his DNA sample during UNH Manchester's Summer EXCELL Program.

Tan Dao huddles with his colleagues as he knits his brows and chews the inside of his cheek. With a quick swab, and a bit of mixing, the experiment is nearly complete. Dao steadies his hands as he pipes liquid into the test tube containing his DNA.

"They get to keep the DNA in a necklace they can wear home," says UNH Manchester professional science tutor Christine Andrews with a big, excited smile.

Her students think it's pretty cool, too. They look and act like professionals even though in reality they are still in middle school.

The students are all part of the EXCELL--Educational Excellence for English Language Learners--program at the University of New Hampshire at Manchester. For five weeks the kids come to UNH Manchester to study science while continuing to develop their English language skills. As part of the program, the students get to spend a few days inside the science labs, where in addition to DNA extraction, they will perform a synthetic urinalysis, dissect a preserved kidney and conduct sensory experiments testing their vision, hearing, equilibrium, taste and sense of smell.

"The idea is that learning in each area supports learning in the other," says Beau Watschke, a graduate of the UNH teacher education program, who developed the EXCELL curriculum which has a science focus.

The EXCELL program was developed by the university's Center for Academic Enrichment in 2004 to provide middle-school students with a similar experience to that of the high school-adult summer program in English for speakers of other languages students, says Michael Pugh, senior lecturer at UNH Manchester. In 2011, the program adopted a shift in curriculum that placed a new emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The lab component of the program was created by professor Patricia Halpin in the biological science program at UNH Manchester.

"This was not only because of the increased national interest in STEM subjects," Pugh says, "but especially to integrate the teaching of language with teaching in science disciplines."

After all, Pugh says, it's through language that they will be able to undertake scientific inquiry, observe, and experiment, record and evaluate data, formulate and defend conclusions, consider alternatives and implications, report findings, and advance informed discussion.

"What's really striking is that these kids choose to give up part of their summer to be here," Watschke says. "They want to learn."

And they keep coming back. This is the second summer in the program for Dao, 14, of Manchester. Dao's family is from Vietnam, and so they speak Vietnamese at home. But Dao says he tries to speak English outside of the home.

"(The program) is a lot of science and we make a lot of experiments," says Dao, who will attend Manchester Memorial High School in the fall. "And you will have to do this someday in high school, so this will help you and maybe in college too."

Not to mention, Dao says, he just likes science. "You can explore, learn, and think," he says. "It's fun."

The EXCELL program ends on Tuesday, Aug. 6 with a graduation for the students at 11 a.m. The event showcases what they’ve learned and their journey through photos and personal stories. The public is invited to attend the graduation in UNH Manchester’s third floor auditorium.

This year’s EXCELL program was possible through the generous support of the Thomas W. Haas Fund of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation. Additional support comes from the Campus Compact for New Hampshire, through a cooperative arrangement between EXCELL and the Manchester School District.

Written by Melanie Plenda

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