Every other Wednesday, 12 home-schooled students from the Tulsa area gather to gain hands-on experience in a lab in The University of Tulsa’s Keplinger Hall. These students are all part of the Classical Conversations Curriculum, based out of Asbury United Methodist Church in Tulsa.
Leading the lectures is Applied Professor of Physics Jerry McCoy, who conceived the idea to host the students at TU after a conversation with Jennifer Bigler, director for all senior-year subjects in the home-school group.
“I asked Jerry if there was any chance he could give my students a peek at the labs, given that exposure like that is hard to come by when it comes to home-schooling,” Bigler said. McCoy took this request a step further and offered a physics lesson to the students instead. “The students loved it, and we thought, why not make this a regular thing?” Bigler added.
Now in its second year, the physics home-school lab group has been a tremendous success. “Hands-on experience is a challenge with home-schooling,” Bigler said. “You can study and read about physics, but in-person experience is crucial to the learning process.”
This program has also exposed Bigler’s group to a college setting. Every other Wednesday, the students enjoy the atmosphere of campus and eat lunch in TU’s Student Union before making their way to Keplinger Hall.
“Our hope is that, through this program, we can inspire home-school students to further their education,” said Bigler. “We want our students to feel less intimidated by the prospect of college and more drawn to the experience.” This hope is already showing results, as one student in the group started attending TU’s Physics Journal Club meetings this year.
Additionally, McCoy aims to enhance the physics home-school experience by including physics graduate students in future lessons. “Graduate students need to learn the craft of teaching,” he explained. This mutually beneficial relationship could grant graduate students additional teaching experience with a unique set of younger students and allow the home-school group to interact with accomplished university students.
A successful collaboration
The partnership between TU and Bigler’s home-school group should serve as a compelling inspiration for other institutions, McCoy said. With the right push, introducing similar initiatives could help universities bridge the gap for home-schooled students and provide them with unique opportunities for learning and growth.
“There’s untapped potential here when labs are not being utilized by university students. And home-school students sometimes find it difficult to get significant hands-on science lab experience. Why not share resources and inspire younger generations to continue learning?” McCoy said.