Stop Seasonal Slides

One of the goals at Project Exploration (PE) is to provide high-quality STEM learning opportunities for youth from communities underrepresented in the sciences including students from low-income households. There is a documented tendency to lose skills over school breaks. During summer, this is often referred to as ‘Summer Slide’ and the negative effects of ‘Summer Slide’ are well-known. “Students from low-income households will begin the year with achievement levels lower than where they were at the beginning of summer vacation. During the summer, 80% of students living in high-poverty areas will lose reading skills over the summer (Reading Partners).” Over the 2018 summer program, PE hosted an 8-week STEM Summer Camp at the West Side STEM Learning Center. More than 60 students, in K-8 grade, participated in engineering programs, coding workshops, and STEM-based field trips.

There are also potential dips in academic achievement during extended times away from the classroom over the winter season. “Similar to summer learning loss, winter learning loss tends to have a greater impact on students who might have less access to scholastic resources at home (Education Post).” At the West Side STEM Learning Center (SLC), Project Exploration successfully hosted its first Winter Break Program on January 2-4 in an effort to keep students engaged during the out-of-school time.

Experiences in STEM

Two of PE’s veteran STEM Facilitators, Uzziel Fernandez and De’ja Jones, worked with middle school students during this year’s 3-day Winter Break Program. De’ja shared that, “Learning about the world of STEM from various environments brought increased awareness to our students.” The Winter Break Program provided relevant and authentic STEM experiences through various field trips to partner organizations. Students visited the Apple Store in Lincoln Park, Mind + Hand’s Maker Lab in West Elsdon, and Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont. Before and after their trips, students participated in team building exercise and reflection activities each day at the West Side STEM Learning Center. Over the course of the program, the students’ interpersonal relationships and collaboration improved. They showcased their growth during their final trip to the Argonne Lab.

Our Apple Partnership

Apple has been a consistent and valued partner of Project Exploration for a number of years. Most notably, Apple hosted a group of Project Exploration’s high school students in March 2018 during PE’s Spring Break Coding Boot Camp. During the Winter Break Program, middle school students tried their hand at coding robots. De’ja said, “Engaging with two of the young ladies in coding the Sphero Robots at the Apple Store in Lincoln Park gave me the opportunity to learn more about coding as well.” Uzziel added, “Spheros are spherical robots that can be programmed through an iPad to complete various tasks such as ‘roll’, ‘rotate’, ‘move forward’ etc. The students showed perseverance through a lot of trial and error and ‘debugging’. In the end, they were able to complete all of the obstacle courses.” 

Accelerating Learning at Mind + Hand

Mind + Hand is a new, yet mighty, partner of Project Exploration. The students and facilitators alike were inspired by their beautiful space and engaging programming. De’ja shared, “We were able to hear Mind + Hand’s story of how the program and concept started. Now the organization is growing and improving every day, just like our vision here at Project Exploration.”

She described her excitement in observing the combination of art and technology through the homemade spin art station. Uzziel offered a description of his favorite workshop. “The activity was figuring out how to turn on a LED with only copper tape, a battery, and the LED itself. The circuit was taped onto a piece of paper and students folded the paper to make connections which turned on the LED. After many tries, almost all of our LEDs turned on!”

Students were able to explore working with 3D Printing Pens, metal stamping with keychains, creating spin art, and forming sound with connectible circuits. Every student was able to find a topic of interest and explore it in depth. Mind + Hand’s Makerspace Coordinator, Tony Landek said, “It was a pleasure to host Project Exploration’s students during their Winter Break Program. Seeing each student’s unique interest in different activities in our makerspace, whether it was creating paper circuits, metal stamping keychains, or making noise with our littleBits synthesizer kit, is exactly why we believe maker education is a powerful model for 21st-century learning.” Project Exploration appreciates Mind + Hand’s support and looks forward to continuing to build on their partnership.

Exploring Science at Argonne

The students wrapped up their Winter Break experience with a trip to Argonne National Laboratory. It was a perfect way to bring the students together and engage in team building challenges which pushed their collaboration skills. The students worked together to build car batteries through the engineering design process. Uzziel describes the experience, “Students built batteries with basic materials like copper, zinc, paper towels, Gatorade, hydrogen peroxide, and tissues. Through exploration, eventually, all the students were able to find what they thought worked best. Everyone put their ideas together to create a battery. The power from the makeshift battery was put into a capacitor and then installed into the car to give it power. Even though it did not travel fast, the car did move forward for over a minute. All the students were amazed at what they could have done with simple materials to make a car have power.”

De’ja agreed, “Seeing the students making their hypothesis, conducting experiments, and recording their data as a team to make a fast powering battery brought me joy and excitement. It was inspiring to see the final result of their moving car going down a long track! The students cheered for each other as each presented their experimental findings in front of the room. In the end, I was inspired by the students how engaged to learn about STEM and worked together as a team throughout the Winter Break Camp.” Kelly Sturner shared, “Argonne Educational Programs is so pleased to partner with Project Exploration. At each school that we visited, the students were all eager to engage in the hands-on activities we brought. Whether it was learning how to program a robot, or how to do test water for its quality, students had fun engaging in doing science. The students embodied the same curiosity about the world as our Argonne scientists and applied themselves to problems the way our scientists do. We had a lot of fun!”

High-Quality STEM Experiences at PE

Every child deserves access to high-quality STEM learning experiences. According to Perspective: Expert Insights On a Timely Policy Issue, “Youth access to enrichment activities is highly dependent upon family income. The highest-income families spend almost seven times more on enrichment activities for their children, and this spending gap creates an opportunity gap.” (p. 6) The report also indicates that “Without OST care, parents who do not have flexible work schedules are left with few or expensive childcare arrangements.” (p. 12)This is just one of the reasons that all of the Project Exploration programs are free and do not have academic prerequisites. If a student is eager to learn something new and engage in the world of STEM, we invite them to join Project Exploration’s programming at the West Side STEM Learning Center. Check out the Spring Program offerings here! Programming starts the week of February 4. We hope to see you there!

Special thanks to L. Shoulterkarall

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