Gateway Science Workshop program encourages peer-led learning

Kira Lerner

When students are struggling to understand a complex scientific theory, it’s sometimes easier to turn to a peer than a professor for help.

The Gateway Science Workshop, organized by the Searle Center for Teaching Excellence, is a peer-led program designed to help students enrolled in chemistry, organic chemistry, biology, math, physics and engineering courses. Student facilitators who have previously completed the course lead a weekly session in which they review worksheets and help students understand the concepts studied in class. All students in these courses have the option of enrolling in a GSW session, which typically has between five and seven students.

Weinberg junior Alison Gegios is currently an organic chemistry facilitator. She said she decided to lead GSW courses after finding them beneficial as a student.

“For some classes, it’s more about how you learn to think,” she said. “You learn to think critically and how to apply critical thinking to the test, and sometimes you do learn helpful hints about specific problems.”

Students can apply to facilitate GSW after they successfully complete the course, Program Coordinator Louie Lainez said. Lainez selects facilitators who would be comfortable teaching their peers and who have the ability to explain complex material, he said.

“The GSW facilitator serves as a coach to the students, encouraging them to think richly and deeply about the material they are learning in course lecture,” he said.

GSW facilitators enroll in a School of Education and Social Policy class to learn how to teach their peers and meet with the science professor to review the worksheet. They must also observe other facilitators and complete a final research project about teaching techniques.

Communication senior Rucha Mehta is a biology senior facilitator, which means she oversees and mentors first-year facilitators. Through being involved in GSW as a student, facilitator and senior facilitator, Mehta said she has observed many different methods of learning.

“If you’re a book learner, GSW might not be the best thing for you,” she said. “But I’m a very hands-on learner. The best way for most students to learn is by trial and error. When you challenge your own thoughts and theories with your peers, that’s the best way to learn.”

Weinberg sophomore Gabrielle Ahlzadeh said she enrolled in a GSW course for biology as a way to help her prepare for the exams.

“It forces you to study,” she said. “I benefit from the small group, and it forces me to focus as opposed to a big lecture class when it’s easy to distract yourself.”

During her GSW course Monday night, Ahlzadeh chatted with other biology students about the upcoming midterm.

“You guys will be fine,” the facilitator said, attempting to calm their nerves. “But can anyone tell me, what does cyanide do?”

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