Another group cast fifth-graders at Carillon Elementary School in a movie that explains why it is important to recycle.

These are just two examples of how service-learning is incorporated into science courses at the University of Central Florida. These projects and others will be shared at the Eighth-Annual Service-Learning Showcase at the Student Union today, April 13. The free event runs from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. in the Pegasus Ballroom. The public is invited.

Service-learning provides opportunities for students to enhance their academic experience by applying what they learn in the classroom to the community, promoting civic engagement and helping to address a community need.

“The children felt like movie stars and were so excited,” said Wei Sam Yuan, a master’s student in biology who participated in the Carillon project.  “They all knew the material and the importance of recycling, and they wanted to help ensure our oceans stay clean.”

While service-learning has long been recognized as instrumental in achieving learning goals in the social sciences and humanities, there is a new push to bring it into science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines. Thirteen institutions of higher learning were given grant money in 2010 to help bring the benefits of service-learning into the hard sciences, according to the National Service-Learning Clearinghouse. Some states have even adopted rules that require service-learning in their science programs.

“There are some things you cannot learn effectively in the classroom,” said Melody Bowdon, an associate professor and director of UCF’s Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning who has earned several grants to help expand service-learning projects into the hard sciences. “Service-learning invites students to actively engage with their course material and helps them to understand the relevance of their education to the communities where they live and work. Nothing solidifies theoretical learning like sharing your growing knowledge with K-12 students.”

Brittany Bilak and her classmate Jaclyn Sisko presented photos and a memory matching game about creatures in the Indian River Lagoon in Brevard County. They also brought a touch tank to the school so the children could experience the lagoon and realize why it is important to preserve it.

“What I learned was how to better communicate the science I know to people outside the field,” Bilak said. “I feel that scientists need to do a better job of that so people will understand and make good choices.”

And sometimes service-learning projects help expose something that college students need to improve.

For example, students in an Honors Chemistry II lab course partnered with Corner Lake Middle School to collect and analyze water samples. The eighth-graders collected samples from their homes, nearby ponds and the beach, and chemistry students at UCF analyzed them. The UCF students had to write letters to the middle schoolers explaining their findings.

“The instructor found that many of the students couldn’t concisely communicate their findings to the general public,” Bowdon said. “So now the instructor is expanding the writing component in all of the lab work in that particular class.

For more information about the showcase or to get tips on getting started with service-learning, visit the Office of Experiential Learning .