Address social and emotional learning standards while teaching STEM content in more engaging ways through service learning in your classroom.

Whether we are intentional about it or not, students learn much more than the content taught in their classes during their school careers. Through watching teacher behavior and observing classmates, students learn about the treatment of others and – hopefully – how to be the best human beings possible. If we intentionally integrate approaches such as service learning, we can ensure that the tertiary things kids learn during their time in school include empathy, humility, and kindness.

At the University of Las Vegas, Nevada, the faculty is given support and resources to incorporate this type of educational tool. Citing Jacoby’s “Service-learning in Higher Education,” the school says, “Service-learning is a form of experiential education in which students engage in activities that address human and community needs together with structured opportunities for reflection designed to achieve desired learning outcomes.” Use the following methods for effective service learning to encourage student engagement in the community and expand upon class lessons.

1. Empathy in Business & Economics

service learningResearch community groups and nonprofit organizations in the local area. Speak with group leaders and ask if they would be willing to collaborate with students on a project aimed at reducing their operational costs while boosting the organization’s impact. Examine the annual spending of the organization, compare this with donations and other income, and ask students to use business and economics concepts to develop solutions that will save money, which could be spent on efforts to improve the community. If organizations are unwilling to share their books, have students brainstorm fundraising opportunities or events to enhance brand awareness within the community while increasing capital.

2. Dedicated by Design

Contact the local city or county government and ask whether any of the community buildings that provide services to residents need upgrades or repairs. Discuss having students design new structures or upgraded features that could simply be one room or area within the space. These structures could include the public library, food banks, homeless facilities, or animal shelters. Using concepts learned in class, such as the math or art in STEAM, students will create designs that will serve the community better than the existing structures.

If no physical project is available or possible, students could use their computer science, coding, and design skills to redo a website for a local service organization or government office. The class could determine the overarching theme and style of the website, then individuals, pairs, or groups could work on the associated pages of the site to meet the organization’s needs.

3. Offering Help to Combat Opioids

service learningThere is no question that the opioid crisis in the United States is one of the biggest problems in the country and students are not immune to the disastrous effects of this epidemic. Invite physicians and drug counselors to visit students to discuss the process through which a person becomes addicted to opioids. Following these discussions, ask students to develop a presentation – that includes medical options based in STEM – regarding how they would apply the information they learned to combating the problem through methods that help and heal their neighbors who are battling the addiction and prevent others from experiencing addiction.

4. Serving as a Mentor

Mentoring is an incredible way for students to live service learning. Approach school administrators to organize a mentorship program. Work with teachers of younger children to organize activities that will encourage the older students to enjoy service learning and benefit junior students who are mentees. Not only will older students engage in service learning, their younger buddies will learn the benefits of this type of selfless behavior from someone whom they hold in high regard. Encourage children to study STEM concepts, especially those with which the younger student struggles.

5. Service Learning Log

service learningEnhance the service learning experience by ensuring think about and reflect upon their work. As a part of these assignments, ask children to keep a log or journal of their work, how they are contributing, and the ways in which they are learning. Take cues from the University of Maryland School of Medicine, which requires its students to engage in service learning and contribute to a Service Learning Log that is included in their Portfolio Page. All student logs are evaluated and some are presented to the school’s faculty, community leaders, and classmates at the end of the year.

When using service learning, keep in mind that activities should not only cultivate a sense of helping the community, but must also integrate coursework. When students see a deep community connection to issues, they will be more empathetic and excited to help. To learn more about this experiential-learning tool, find resources through the National Youth Leadership Council’s Generator School Network. Sharing the beauty of giving through service learning with students also helps teachers. By seeing a sense of compassion develop in their students, teachers can avoid being overcome with the fatigue that occasionally strikes those who always go beyond the call of duty.

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