Since the spring of 1997 Reed students have been teaching science classes such as this two days a week for eight weeks per semester to Rieke Elementary and Robert Gray Middle School students, both in southwest Portland, supported by part of a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The program is the concept of Reed biology professor Robert Kaplan, who first began thinking about outreach to public schools in the early 1990s. For several years, he was involved with a two-week summer program at Reed for high school students. "But children were being lost to science at even younger ages. Also, the program didn't reach big enough numbers," says Kaplan, "and it had almost no Reed student involvement. I realized that our students are the perfect age to mentor elementary and middle school children." Kaplan was also convinced Reedies would be interested.
Working with teachers and principals at the two schools, Kaplan and other Reed biology faculty members developed a program outline. Determined to keep the commitment of already busy Reed professors to a minimum, Kaplan proposed that each semester, one professor help develop key points to be conveyed about his or her area of expertise. Then that professor would give one brief lecture on the chosen topic to Reed students and the grade school teachers with whom they would be working. Reed would make available resource material and equipment and work out ahead of time a set of experiments and exercises for Reedies to use in class.
The hearty response among Reed students was gratifying, with 25 to 30 signing up per semester. Furthermore, college president Steven Koblik became sufficiently enthusiastic about the program that when a coordinator was needed, he offered to fund the position and continues to do so.
The approach to science conveyed by the program is an outgrowth of the approach taught to Reed biology students. "Scientists ask questions," Kaplan elaborates. "Here we stress that science is a process, not the accumulation of facts. Then we define what is a good or bad question. In elementary school, all questions are good.