Alumni in Action: Kevin Keller’s Science Detectives
This issue’s story is about Kevin Keller, a 2008 UHS graduate and the founder of Science Detectives. Science Detectives seeks to address struggling education programs in Arizona, particularly in the sciences. With a team of ASU students, including UHS graduates Eric Lehnhardt, Eric Van Buren, Scott Van Buren, Addie Hill, Melanie Lehnhardt, Jennifer Brandon, Laura Van Slyke, and Riley Molloy, Kevin is teaching elementary school students an advanced science curriculum to help them meet standards, develop, and sustain an interest in science. I was lucky enough to interview Kevin about the experiences he has had throughout college and working with Science Detectives.
Kevin recalls UHS as a “small community of people who were passionate, talented, and driven enough to achieve their goals.” He remembers being impressed by fellow students who had excelled in music, athletics, and academics. He is no exception to this description. A Mock Trial participant for all four years, Kevin learned about logic, communication, and “transforming passion into a compelling argument;” all of which have helped him in forming Science Detectives. Another important experience for Kevin, and the formation of Science Detectives, was one of his favorite classes, AP Chemistry with Mr. Woon. The course showed him that science could be “both challenging and engaging.” Another class that stood out in Kevin’s mind was AP Economics with Ms. Gray, which has informed many of his decisions with Science Detectives.
Now a student at ASU, Kevin will graduate in 2013 with a major in Chinese and minor in Economics. He studied in China on a Boren Scholarship, and plans to return next year through the US Department of Defense’s Language Flagship Program. While Kevin was studying abroad, he worked as an English teacher. Closer to home, he also volunteered for two years as a Spanish/English interpreter at a low-income clinic in downtown Phoenix. He has certainly put his language skills to good use.
As for extracurriculars, Kevin has continued his involvement in Mock Trial and participated on the ASU Triathlon team.
Kevin remembers UHS fondly and comments, “UHS showed me that if I applied myself diligently to a task I could succeed.”
What is Science Detectives?
When Kevin was teaching English in China he couldn’t help but notice how advanced the 8th grade science curriculum was and how relatively advanced the 8th graders themselves were. After seeing 13-year-olds work out chemical formulas and complete complicated electricity diagrams, he was inspired to bring an advanced curriculum back to his own community. He and some friends put together an accelerated science program for elementary school students.
As the founder and chair of Science Detectives, Kevin has developed it into a weekly after-school program that emphasizes “hands-on lessons that explore real-world application of physics, biology, chemistry, and mathematical analysis.” Kevin continues to major in Chinese but he works to keep Science Detectives connected to his interests in education.
With a reported 40% of Arizona fourth graders failing to meet science standards on the AIMS, Kevin realized how important and necessary it is to make sure students are taught a “deep understanding of foundational science concepts” at a very young age. There are three main goals that Kevin has developed for Science Detectives: expose students to a wide breadth of sciences at a young age, provide role models of engaging student instructors pursuing degrees in science, and teach real scientific theory. His overall goal is to lay a solid foundation for these young students in order for them to succeed in future science courses. This program also recognizes the importance of really involving students in experiments and encouraging thoughtful inquiry. His belief in student potential informs what, for me, allows him to move beyond simply teaching to a test but rather teaching to inspire creative and critical thinking.
Science Detective Goals and Success
Kevin and his team have presented parents with program surveys in order to measure program success. About one fourth of all the parents took the survey in 2011 and had overall positive feedback. They said that they would re-enroll their child in the program, that their child enjoyed the program, and that the program improved the quality of their child’s education. Kevin is still seeking a more concrete method of testing whether Science Detectives improves science proficiency and welcomes any advice about test-building tutorials or helpful rubrics.
“Don’t get flustered when things go wrong. No leader can predict and plan for every obstacle. In my view, the success of an organization does not depend on a lack of mistakes or problems; rather, it depends on having a group of leaders who are flexible, resilient, and insightful enough to quickly resolve any problems that arise.” The idea that what might be perceived as an error or a failure at first could become informative is encouraging!
Kevin is excited to find work, preferably abroad, in the field of development work. While he may move on, Science Detectives is flourishing and will continue to be run after his graduation by others committed to its success and to the success of the students it teaches and inspires.
In a time where the education system has engendered so much controversy and has made so many missteps, it is inspiring to see something being done right. UHS continues to turn out conscientious students who are putting their minds and energies into programs that help communities thrive. Numerous studies show how important it is to engage students at a young age, to interest them in learning from the beginning, to help them understand themselves as capable, and to encourage them to imagine themselves as, in this case, scientists! Science Detectives is not only doing this, but it is also allowing college students to practice their teaching and science skills and interests. Kevin started a program that is relevant and important to his community while inspiring and involving many fellow students. Make sure to check out the Science Detectives’ website and Facebook page.
Read about more “Alumni in Action” here. If you would like to suggest a UHS graduate to be the subject of a future column, send an email to email@example.com and put “Alumni in Action” in the subject line.
Short URL: http://www.uhsperspective.org/?p=4396