Aspiring UCI professor lights up school

Quantum mechanics and physical chemistry student Stephen Shinjiro Sasaki loves teaching, but he isn't interested in rushing through the curriculum to meet rigorous state standards.

So when he finished UC Irvine's Cal Teach program, which trains math and science teachers, he started his own course that allows him to spread his passion for science to kids, but also go in-depth about higher-level science topics.

"I wanted to make the program because essentially I could do all the fun things," said Sasaki, who aspires to become a UCI professor. "I don't have to worry about what principles I have to teach them because the government wants this or that, so I can focus solely on what the kids are interested in."

Sasaki started the twice weekly lunchtime Super Scientist lessons at Sonora Elementary School this year. He treats the fifth-grade students at the Costa Mesa campus like doctorate researchers taking small-group seminars, where they have the time to pick and research topics of their choice.

"I really like to be able to teach them these higher-level concepts, and I think it's just how you teach it, really," Sasaki said. "The thing is, science is very intuitive. Every single person alive naturally understands that light has energy ... everyone intuitively knows it, but science puts it together in facts and solidifies it."

Sonora students already have dedicated science time with specialty teacher Tammy Evans, but only get an hour a week, with the fifth-graders receiving an extra 20 minutes.

More than 30 students — double what could be accommodated — put in applications to join the program, Evans said.

"It's a great experience for the kids because they get to do things that are above and beyond the standards, and do things that they are focused on and what they are interested in," she said.

Fifth-grader Adrianna Rojas, 11, became interested in the Super Scientist program because she likes biology.

"I wanted to join because I want to learn more about science and learn everything there is about it," she said.

The 15 students gather at lunch on Mondays and Wednesdays in the science lab to quickly gobble down their food before donning white lab coats with professional I.D. cards clipped to them.

So far, the students have studied light, including what it is, how it works and how the human eye perceives it.

For the students, the lessons are just plain cool, said fifth-grader Angel Cantera, 10, who already is interested in the field.

"When I grow up, I want to be a scientist," he said, "and when I go to college, I want to study it."

Twitter: @britneyjbarnes

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