Holding up a paper cutout of a fish and its habitat, Max Vazquez Dominguez showed a room full of Riverbend Elementary students how animals camouflage themselves.
Dominguez, assistant professor of teacher education at the University of North Georgia, has been incorporating science lessons into the literacy clinic at the Casper Drive Community Center in Gainesville this year.
Every Wednesday he reads a storybook to students, from third to fifth grade, in both English and Spanish. He then adds a science component to the lesson.
“Science has its own language,” Dominguez said. “The more familiar you are with the language and the practices at this age, the better chance you have to be engaged in a future STEM career.”
Instead of using books that purposefully incorporate science, Dominguez chooses classic stories like “Humpty Dumpty” and “The Three Little Pigs.”
In the case of “The Three Little Pigs,” the students followed the story by creating structures made of toothpicks and marshmallows.
Dominguez, who acted like the Big Bad Wolf, blew air on the structures to see if they would hold up. If they fell, he would give the students the opportunity to rebuild them.
“I’m not inventing anything new. I’m just using resources that are available that have not been put together,” Dominguez said.
With many of the lessons Dominguez purchases the materials himself; however, recently the program received grant funding through UNG to stock up on supplies.
Dominguez said he first heard about the clinic from Annmarie Jackson, assistant professor of teacher education at UNG. Jackson started the program in fall 2018 to help children from Riverbend read on grade level, many of which live in the Baker & Glover Mobile Home Park where the literacy clinic resides.
Before coming to UNG, Dominguez said he volunteered at the public library in Athens and helped run a similar literacy program. When he started his job at UNG, he was eager to find another opportunity that would fill the void.
“My colleagues invited me, and since that very moment, I was very happy working here,” Dominguez said. “I had the opportunity to bring science to the lessons, which was perfect.”
So far, Dominguez has taught lessons that involve physical science, biology and engineering. He plans to introduce astronomy and electricity next year.
“I like the tutors and it’s a little bit better than school,” Jazmin Garcia, a Riverbend fifth grader, said.
Garcia said she has been coming to the literacy clinic for three years to get assistance with homework and take part in the hands-on educational activities.
Many of the volunteers who come out to the center are students at UNG.
Dominguez and other UNG teachers have used the clinic as an incentive in class. If they volunteer with the children, then they can omit certain assignments.
Anne Dawkins, a student at UNG who is pursuing a teaching career, said she initially came to the clinic because of a class.
After receiving credit for volunteering, she kept coming back.
“I enjoy it, it’s fulfilling,” Dawkins said. “I’ve connected with the kids and I’ve been with Adrian since I started.”
Adrian Medina is a fourth grader at Riverbend and has enjoyed learning science through Dominguez and Dawkins.
“It’s fun,” Medina said. “We build stuff, we play stuff and we have a teacher.”
At then end of the day, Dominguez hopes that the kids have fun and learn something.
“The main purpose of the program is to engage them and promote curiosity in STEM,” Dominguez said.