DeCals: Science in Oakland Elementary Schools

One thing that I absolutely love here at UC Berkeley is our DeCal program. DeCal stands for Democratic Education at Cal, and these are courses that are taught by undergraduates taken Pass/No Pass. DeCals cover a wide range of topics from knitting to Harry Potter to how to read science literature. I think it is safe to say that there is one out there for everyone.

For the past two semesters, I have taken a DeCal called Science in Oakland Elementary Schools (SOES). We meet on Mondays to either talk about the upcoming week’s experiment or current issues within the education system. Every other Wednesday we go to an Oakland elementary school and run a science program for the kids. We do all kinds of fun experiments from egg drops to making layers of the Earth out of playdough to (you guessed it!) volcanoes.

Working with the kids is a lot of fun. They have such great energy and are very enthusiastic to learn. Last week we were teaching our students about pollution. They made filters by running purple Kool Aid through soil, sand, and gravel. When the Kool Aid came out, it was clear so all of the purple was filtered out. What was really cool was how much the kids could apply what they already knew to the lesson. With very little prompting they were talking about the water cycle, the effects pollution has on animals, and why it’s important not to pollute. I’m always amazed by how much they know and how quickly they pick up on scientific concepts.

the kids engaging in the lesson (photo contributed by Jenna Campbell, one of the facilitators).

As someone who is considering the premed track, this DeCal has been invaluable. Having to explain chemistry, biology, environmental science, or physics in terms a seven year old can understand has enhanced my own understanding of science and taught me how to break down big concepts. In the beginning of the year I often caught myself using complicated words to explain other complicated words. However, as the year has progressed, I have found that it comes more naturally to me to explain complex concepts in simple terms.

I also appreciate that the DeCal program has given me an opportunity to explore a new interest: education. Education is something that I have always cared a lot about, but never really delved into. I’m grateful I did because it has been very eye-opening to learn about the different aspects of our education system, which as a college student really resonates with me. We discuss topics like how schools are funded, the role of socio-economics, learning styles/personalized learning, and current events particularly in California.

For me, SOES was one of the first things I joined when I got to Cal. I’m so happy I did because it’s been so much fun to be a part of, and I think it’s a great way to give back to the community. DeCals are also a great way to meet people- in my DeCal, some of the highlights have been the car rides where there is not a quiet moment from the time we get into the car to the time we get out. If you’re looking to try something new next semester, I would definitely recommend the DeCal program- you won’t regret it!

Author: Haley Stober

Hi everyone! My name is Haley, and I am a third year from Connecticut studying Molecular and Cell Biology. Outside of giving tours and writing for the blog, I am involved with on campus research, the American Medical Students Association, Berkeley Hillel, and greek life. I'm excited to share my Berkeley experiences with you and go bears!