More than a dozen undergraduate and graduate students participated as course facilitators for the new Science and Math Prep Program, offered online via WebEx through the College of Arts and Science. (Photo: Submitted)

Science and math prep program inspires incoming USask students

For many students, the transition from high school courses to a university learning environment can be daunting. Add to that a senior year abruptly cut short and altered by a global pandemic, and the transition can feel particularly overwhelming.

By Meagan Hinther

“As a university, we were concerned that some incoming students may be particularly anxious about the upcoming academic year and wanted to offer a program that could help mitigate any learning gaps,” said Dr. Michelle Prytula (PhD), dean of the College of Education at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) and project collaborator.

The solution: a new summer Science and Math Prep Program consisting of modules in four key subject areas—biology, physics, chemistry and math. The program received more than 350 registrations from incoming first-year students. Two sessions were offered in each subject area throughout July and August.

The College of Education, College of Arts and Science, as well as Teaching, Learning and Student Experience worked collaboratively to plan, develop and support the program. The course modules were designed by graduate students in science and the Educational Technology and Design program, with 14 education and science students hired to facilitate the delivery of the content and mentor small groups of students through the modules.

Lana Elias, director of the Science Outreach Office in the College of Arts and Science, acted as program manager for the initiative, connecting course developers, facilitators and faculty to enable project success and the learning of the prep program participants.

“We were fortunate to receive funding from the federal government’s Canada Summer Jobs program and TECHNATION’s Career Ready Program to help offset the course developer and facilitator positions,” said Elias. “Both recognized the importance of providing employment opportunities for students that may have been impacted by COVID-related job losses and supporting online learning.”

Course facilitators Alex Rosset and Peter Homer enjoyed the experience and shared that they saw growth in the students as well.

"Based on the feedback from surveys throughout the course and what we saw in the students, they really liked the course, they would recommend it to other people, and it felt like they took valuable learning away to apply to their first year of university," said Homer, a third-year education student who also holds a Bachelor of Science in chemistry from USask.

Rosset, a fourth-year honours student in the Department of Physics and Engineering Physics, said that a lot of the feedback received from the students pointed to increasing gains in confidence.

“As much as I love the subject, physics is not for everyone,” she said. “You’ll often hear people say that they hate physics. There was one student in particular that entered the course thinking that and at first they weren’t super engaged.”

“Near the end, they were completing assignments before the due date, and they came and talked to me and said that they had a great experience and they don’t hate physics anymore. Which is really all you can ask for,” Rosset added.

Many faculty and staff in the College of Arts and Science, the College of Education, and Teaching, Learning and Student Experience acted as mentors, guest lecturers, facilitator advisors and contributors to the curriculum development and were integral to the success of the program, explained Elias. That sentiment was shared by the course facilitators.

“The resources to support us—the facilitators—have been fantastic, particularly for a student that is just learning how to teach,” said Homer. “We talked about the best ways to reach these students, how to keep them engaged and what sort of visual aids to use.”

Though the goal was mentoring students, the facilitators felt they also learned a lot about themselves.

“I’m not an online learner personally, especially in physics and math, it’s hard material to learn online,” said Rosset. “Being able to teach these courses and having to find a way to engage these students has given me an understanding of how I, myself, might be engaged. Going into the fall term I’m going to dedicate time to learning examples and going to tutorials—the things I found my own students doing in the prep program.”