To students majoring in the sciences who are beginning to feel the stress: you are not alone. Fortunately, Bates College may offer a lifeline in the form of the Peer Assisted Learning in the Sciences (PALS) Program.
Brought to Bates in 2003 by current Dean of Faculty Pam Baker, PALS is the college’s answer to Supplemental Instruction (SI), a program adopted by thousands of colleges worldwide. Both SI and PALS seek to increase retention of students in science, engineering, technology and mathematics courses. The Consortium for High Achievement and Success, which Bates is a part of, recognized SI as a highly successful program, especially noted for its inclusion of students from all cultural and academic backgrounds. Baker thought that SI would fit in well with the egalitarian culture of the college because of its mandatory sessions that allow students to decide if and when they need assistance.
The Bates version of the program retains many of the founding characteristics. PALS Leaders are assigned to classes with higher withdrawal rates and frequencies of lower grades, and are responsible for leading regularly scheduled, out-of-class review and study sessions with their peers. Sessions are open to all Bates students, as the program does not target any student individually. The point of the program is to integrate course material with better learning skills, creating a synthesis of information and application.
Being a PALS Leader is both a responsibility and a badge of honor. To be eligible for the position, a student must have successfully completed the course with which he or she wishes to assist. At the beginning of each semester, leaders receive training regarding how students learn, and also leadership and tutorial techniques. Over the course of the semester, leaders meet with their professors to discuss common problems with the subject matter and to develop worksheets and problem sets for their tutorial sessions. Each week, the entire PALS staff meets with an advisor to ensure that the program is running smoothly and to work out any issues. The total time commitment averages four to eight hours a week.
If you are enrolled in Biology 109, Chemistry 108, CHES 108B, Chemistry 218, Environmental Studies 203, or Physics 108 this semester, then you are lucky enough to have a PALS Leader attending your class sessions and devoting extra time for reviews. This semester, the PALS Leaders are Alison Travers, Hannah Whitehead, Sarah Cancelarich, Edwin Mapfuwa, Josh Zimmer, Filip Michalsky, Astrid Gleaton, Lianna Cohen, Hal Blegen, Brigette Chandhoke, Jocelyn Hoye, and Aliza Khurram.
Sophomore Hannah Whitehead joined the program as a leader this semester. Usually, her sessions involve herself, her co-leader, and ten to fifteen students looking to enhance their understanding of the material. Before a midterm or an exam, Whitehead said the sessions can grow to include 60 students out of a class of 120.
Being a Leader is a rewarding experience. “It’s very rewarding to help kids who might otherwise slip through the cracks. You build relationships with the kids who come every week, and get to know a lot of interesting people,” Whitehead said.
Similarly, there are academic advantages for the Leaders, who become completely comfortable with the material they teach. “I like relearning the material from a teacher’s point of view,” Whitehead said.
If you are interested in learning more about the PALS program, contact Seri Lowell, Writing Specialist in the Sciences.