At Project Exploration, we are always looking for new and innovative ways to engage our youth to get them excited to learn about STEM!  To help in this effort, this past year, we were awarded with the amazing opportunity to partner with an organization called SciGirls CONNECT!  SciGirls CONNECT is in associated with SciGirls, which is a broad national outreach effort to encourage educators, both formal and informal, to adopt new, research-based strategies to engage girls in STEM.  This partnership opens up an online resource for new and exciting activities that can be implemented

With this partnership, Project Exploration was also given the chance to host an all-day training for our staff, partners, and interested educators to learn and practice the SciGirls education philosophy and featured activities.  On February 11th, 2017, we were able to implement this exciting training! Our wonderful partners at Chicago Architecture Foundation, including Jennifer Groot and Angela Esposito, kindly provided their Arcelor Mittal Design Studio at their Michigan Avenue office in Chicago for the gathering! Also, Gabrielle Lyon, Vice President of Education and Experience at Chicago Architecture Foundation and Founder of Project Exploration, gave us a warm welcome to their amazing space! We were very excited with the diversity of educators that were able to attend, including: Project Exploration staff, Chicago Architecture staff, out-of-school time educators, Shedd Aquarium staff, as well as formal educators.

Our instructor for the day was Edyta Dudek, who is the Director of the Women in Science and Engineering program at the University of Chicago, and she started the day with some introductions and gave a great overall look at the SciGirls history and resources that would be available to all present who would be completing the training.  We also go information about the pedagogical philosophy behind the SciGirls activities, which they call the ‘SciGirls Seven’. We were surprised and thrilled to find out that many of the goals behind the activities directly aligned with Project Exploration mission and vision related to our programs.

The best part of the day was the hands-on activities that were provided for the attendees to participate in! The overwhelming favorite was the ‘Dough Creatures’. The participants were given two different kinds of homemade dough: a green kind that was conductive of electrical currents, and a yellow kind that was insulating and nonconductive.  The lesson was all about creating an electric circuit (with= a battery and wires) through the dough to turn on an LED light.  The part that made it really exciting was that the task was to mold a creature or object from the dough that would still allow a circuit to pass through and the light to turn on. Everyone was getting really creative! Meghan Bagley, a Project Exploration STEM Facilitator, made a reindeer out of the clay and had the LED light turn on as a red nose to create a ‘Rudolph’ effect, while Nigel Ray, another Project Exploration STEM Facilitator and coding specialist, created a model of a laptop computer with the LED light representing the ‘start’ button! So much creativity happening! Our Executive Director, Natasha Smith-Walker said it was her favorite activity because it gave her the chance “to be creative while also understanding the science.”

The other favorite activity of the day was called ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ where participants were given a bag of random supplies and given one task: design a windmill that spins.  The groups got quickly to work and started designing blades that would best allow the windmill to spin, then working to use the right supplies to allow the whole apparatus to spin.  It was definitely a lot more difficult than it sounds.  Our Events Coordinator Intern at Project Exploration and Adler University student, Janese Evans even said, “Our group struggled at first but it felt good to

take simple supplies, use abstract thinking, and create something that works.”  As groups finished, they put their windmills to the test in front of a personal fan; some groups succeeded, while other had to go back to the drawing board and redesign.  Then everyone was challenged to improve their designs with another task: the windmill needs to spin and live a bucket.  This created a little chaos while groups started to challenge each other and see how many washers their windmills could lift.  The competition got intense!  The group that won was able to lift 24 washers in their bucket! Quite an engineering accomplishment! 🙂

Not only was it a day full of fun and hands-on activities, but it was a great chance for educators from different institutions, backgrounds, and organizations to network and collaborate on future projects.  We look forward to working with SciGirls more throughout the year, including possibly hosting further trainings around Chicago, and implementing their amazing activities in our programs!

Written by: Jaclyn Carmichael


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