GRASSHOPR connects Dyson graduate students with K–12 classrooms

By: Maria Kalaitzandonakes, MS ’19
Photo of six students sitting around a table with one teacher speaking to them

By Maria Kalaitzandonakes, MS ’19

I basically live in Warren Hall. Graduate school keeps you busy, and although it is a wonderful adventure, most of it takes place in a few hundred square feet. So, once in awhile, I believe it is important to take the things I’m learning outside to the “real world.”

This year I’ve been one of the lucky graduate students that have gotten to participate in the messy world of K-12 teaching. The Graduate Student School Outreach Program, cleverly shortened to GRASSHOPR, provides a way for Cornell graduate students to share their knowledge with local grade schoolers.

Photo of Maria and Bobby smiling
Maria Kalaitzandonakes, MS ’19, and Bobby Schell, MS ’19

Bobby Schell, Dyson MS ’19, and I were amongst the 76 volunteers at Cornell who created a prospective mini-course in their area of study. After we submitted our ideas, GRASSHOPR handed the list over to K-12 teachers to peruse. Our class was selected by a middle and high school teacher at Lehman Alternative Community School.

This year there were 42 programs, all on different topics. Our program focused on behavioral economics. With input from our teacher, we created a seminar-style behavioral economics mini-course.

Each Tuesday we made the trek up to Lehman to work with the students on case studies that featured companies’, government’s, and NGO’s use of behavioral economics. The discussion was always lively and hilarious (as any debate within a high school classroom is). The students were engaged and bright. They brought in examples of behavioral economic principles that they saw in their part-time jobs, home lives, and school. During our class time, we discussed famous examples, ethics, research styles, and the future of the field.

Photo of GRASSHOPPR students working on project

Near the end of our program, our students visited the Cornell campus, to take a look at some of the labs that are doing this interesting work firsthand. The students first pretended to be research subjects and participated in a mock experiment in the LEEDR lab. Then, students went behind the scenes and discussed the test from the researcher side.

To culminate the program, we asked each of the students to prepare a project that would use a concept from behavioral economics to solve a problem. Their project topics were diverse and reflected their passions. Projects ranged from how to increase college foot traffic near downtown businesses to how to dissuade teenagers from storing condoms in their wallets.

For our GRASSHOPR team, this semester’s project has been fulfilling and energizing. We spent our weeks preparing lessons, answering questions, and teaching a topic we love—and venturing outside of Warren Hall wasn’t such a bad thing either.

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