Entrepreneurial teacher uses engaging experiences outside the classroom to bring science to elementary students

Beth Chamberlain, a teacher of Physics, Chemistry and Engineering; the Science Department Co-Head at Danville High School; and a long-time EnLiST Fellow, embodies the essence of what it means to be an entrepreneurial STEM teacher leader. In addition to teaching science to high school students in the formal setting of her school, Chamberlain constantly seeks opportunities and resources to make science learning accessible and engaging to younger students in informal settings. This is particularly significant because science teaching and learning receives little attention in the greater majority of elementary classrooms across the nation.

One of Beth’s projects is a science summer camp for the Boys and Girls Club in Danville, Illinois. Each summer the camp features a mystery theme, such as the “Case of the Kidnapped Cookies,” whereby kids use and, thus, learn science in order to solve the case. Throughout the mystery, kids get to learn about core biology, chemistry, and physics concepts through exciting, hands-on activities, such as finger printing, extracting DNA from strawberries, and doing simulated “splatter analysis” with ketchup!

Chamberlain has orchestrated her science summer camps for over a decade in two different towns. Originally, she offered the camp in a rural community in partnership with a local chemical plant. When Chamberlain relocated to Danville, the camp idea came with her, but not the sponsorship. She worked diligently to nurture connections in the community, and was successful in securing new avenues of financial support for her camps through grants and partnerships with local organizations, such as the YMCA and the Boys and Girls Club, in addition to EnLiST and several businesses in the community.

The camp has grown to include over 100 elementary school students each summer, who partake in all activities at virtually no cost to them. But the science learning opportunities do not stop with the younger students: High school students also are tapped to engage with the camps. They are offered the opportunity to serve as camp counselors, which enables them to better develop their own understandings of science concepts and hone their scientific inquiry skills as they facilitate the engagement of elementary students with camp “investigations.”

The summer camp, like all of Chamberlain’s projects, places a strong emphasis on inquiry-based learning and hands-on/minds-on activities to promote learning in both formal and informal settings. This style, along with her ability to meaningfully engage and connect students with science at all academic levels, makes Chamberlain’s efforts particularly effective. She is simultaneously successful in improving elementary students’ understandings of scientific concepts, enhancing their attitudes toward science, and bolstering their problem solving skills, as well as enabling high school students to apply their science learning and partake in significant service to their community.

Chamberlain’s leadership and efforts bring science to kids who otherwise would have limited opportunities to experience the power of understanding and thrill of solving problems. She is an exemplary leader who works diligently and marshals resources to provide equitable access, and nurture a future generation of individuals capable of contributing, to the scientific and engineering enterprise.