Krista Murillo, seen here teaching a class in UTC’s Challenger STEM Learning Center, wants to design “courses that work outside the classroom.”

Magnetic Slime 

½ cup white school glue

½-1 tablespoon baking soda

½-1/3 cup iron oxide powder

1 tablespoon contact lens solution

Begin with white school glue in a bowl. Add each ingredient as listed separately and stir until well mixed. Knead with hands to form slime. Some liquid will be left in the bowl. Use neodymium magnets to play with magnetic slime. Store slime in a plastic bag.

NOTE: Magnetic Slime will leave a removable residue on hands and surfaces.

Magnetic slime and high-impact practices: They can go together like parental involvement and successful schoolchildren.

As an educator who prepares educators of the future, Krysta Murillo challenges her students to propose novel approaches to engaging pupils and their parents. Their proposal to bring the novelty of magnetic slime—and a few other engaging displays—to an elementary school community event won high-impact practices grant funding from UTC’s Walker Center for Teaching and Learning.

Murillo, a member of the UTC School of Education faculty, was part of a group of faculty engaged by the Walker Center to develop courses for the ThinkAchieve, a platform implemented in 2013 to formalize UTC’s distinctive focus on experiential learning.

The goal for Murillo and her education colleagues in the group was “making courses that work outside the classroom.”

“In education, we always grapple with the challenge of connecting theory to practice. That’s why we do a field component,” she says. “And in my course—Home, School and Community Partnerships—it’s not enough for students just to sign up for placement (in a school setting). I wanted students not only to observe and take notes on what teachers are doing to engage families and communities, I wanted them to be tasked with planning a community-engagement event and to realize the amount of planning and effort that involves.

“The idea is to also learn what teachers, principals and administrators do to develop productive relationships with parents and how those relationships function between teachers, administrators and families.”

Murillo structured the course syllabus to incorporate community-event planning along with standard field experience and observations. Students considered challenges to making families feel welcome at neighborhood schools and welcome to support their children. Just a few among those challenges are parental intimidation about visiting schools, uncertainty about making suggestions or asking questions of teachers and doubt in the value of participation.

“I talked to my students about what successful existing schools do outside the classroom, which generally includes letting your guard down and having real conversations with parents and families. If administrators are well-supported by staff, and teachers feel well-supported in reaching out to families, you can feel a good climate when you walk in the door, and school climate is a huge part of family engagement. I wanted them to see a good model.”

Murillo found a good model in Soddy Elementary School in Hamilton County. “The school principal, Kim Roden, is remarkable,” Murillo says. “She greets all the families by their names. She gives hugs and high fives to the kids. She is very engaging and warm and is a great example to our students.”

The school hosts a family night in March and a fall festival, which Murillo’s students got involved with in the fall 2018 semester. “I said, ‘Let’s look at something that can get messy, and that’s OK—not highly academic, but just fun,” she says. “They came up with ideas for a variety of interactive stations, including making ‘magnetic slime.’”

Magnetic slime—think “slime” as in a thick but malleable substance akin to Silly Putty—changes shape in response to the proximity of a magnet. Ingredients include mostly household products such as liquid starch and school glue, but iron oxide powder is the ingredient that makes it responsive to magnets, which also have to be special, neodymium (rare earth) magnets.

Grant funding of $800 (high-impact practices grants can be up to $2,000 each) enabled Murillo’s students to have materials for magnetic slime, along with seeds, soil, cotton balls, glass jars and a variety of items for everything from “tornado in a jar” to making clouds form.

“They loved it,” Murillo says. “The event featured a series of interactive stations and the goal for the stations was to follow a central theme of scientific inquiry—not the scientific method, but something to explore. It was a great experience that went even better than I expected, and it took a lot of effort for the students to plan. They did a great job collaborating on a like-minded goal.”

Murillo says her UTC students benefited from firsthand experience in going beyond the traditional role of teacher. The experiential learning design—extensive journaling to assess pre-course assumptions versus post-course understanding—facilitated insights into effective engagement with both pupils and their parents.

“For my class, it was essential for them to have this experiential-learning option,” Murillo says. “It also helps to demonstrate the presence and value of soft skills in education: learning about themselves and their challenges to being sociable and effectively engaging with parents and families.”

While they got the benefit of meeting teachers who enjoy their work, Murillo says her students also served to demonstrate the value of pursuing higher education to a student population that may not receive that message routinely.

“I know that the principal is very happy to have UTC students come all the way to Soddy, and we noticed there that not a lot of kids are thinking about or in families being encouraged to go to college. It’s really important for Ms. Roden’s pupils to see UTC students in her classrooms and to have the opportunity to talk to our students about college.”

Roden, in her seventh year as Soddy Elementary principal, agrees.

“When we’re talking about ‘future-ready,’ a lot of kids in rural areas don’t know about all the possibilities available to them.” Roden says Soddy Elementary takes advantage of UTC’s “CK Now! College Knowledge for Now” opportunity for schoolchildren to visit campus and learn about higher-education options.

“That allows them to cross the dam,” she says, referring to the community’s location in rural Hamilton County northwest of Lake Chickamauga. “But we have to do all we can in trying to be a future-ready district and CK Now! lets our kids know more about what’s available, and the UTC students who come here are good examples of what our students can do and could do. The UTC interactive stations were a really big hit, too. We surveyed our students and that activity was their No. 1 favorite, and they definitely want the UTC students to come back.”

And if Soddy Elementary officials discover, by their on-site contributions, the capability of Murillo’s students such that it helps with their getting hired eventually, that’s a happy bonus, she says.

“The whole experience has been very rewarding for me. I really enjoyed seeing the students engaged in a different setting, and it solidified my belief that their experience outside the classroom is important.”

UTC’s Walker Center for Teaching and Learning funds faculty proposals to develop and improve high-impact practices in their courses. High-impact practices, as described by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, focus on specific types of active learning practices that, according to research, is shown to have significant positive effects on student learning outcomes. Active learning refers to a variety of classroom practices used to improve student engagement.




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