In 2020, in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, Project Exploration strategically and sustainably built STEM@home virtual program opportunities to supplement existing programs. Intentionally building upon and strengthening in-person programs, STEM@home allows PE to create transformative learning experiences for youth underrepresented in STEM regardless of school closures and strikes. Additionally, meeting the needs of students who are notoriously truant, STEM@home seeks to bring and incentivize STEM learning opportunities not only in the afterschool space, but also at home.
In Fall 2019, Project Exploration was serving 175 kids; by Fall 2020, PE was thrilled to be serving nearly 550 kids through virtual programs, a 300% increase! While the number of students we serve continues to grow, providing individualized learning based on student interests remains a top priority.
What is STEM@home?
STEM@home refers to a suite of resources and e-learning opportunities that are available to families virtually through PE’s website and in mailed STEM@home kits. The resources help parents engage kids in fun, hands-on STEM activities requiring simple materials that they already have at home or that can be cost-effectively provided via mailed kits.
PE has always recognized the systemic challenges faced by families, but the coronavirus pandemic underscored the digital divide and exacerbated the existing community challenges of systemic racism, job loss, food deserts, and violence. While government agencies, schools, and organizations have scrambled to meet the needs of families, they do not have enough resources to meet every need. Children in low-income households are missing out on e-learning opportunities.
Educational content and learning opportunities are provided in three major categories:
- STEMbook Activity Pages – PE-curated STEMbook activity pages and parent toolkits are mailed and/or downloaded from PE’s website and walk families through hands-on activities that expose students to a wide array of STEM concepts and disciplines. Students earn points for completing activities and responding to comprehension questions in our Share It Portal.
- LIVE virtual programs – PE staff and volunteer STEM Mentors lead virtual program sessions on Zoom. Students earn points for attendance and active participation with other students and program facilitators via Class Dojo.
- View and Do Challenges – video tutorials curated and made available on Chicago’s city-wide My Chi. My Future. the digital platform allows students to walk through STEM activities and challenges led by PE staff and STEM Mentors. By responding to comprehension questions and completing challenges, students earn badges and points.
In each category, students earn points for completing activities that are saved and can be traded for prizes in PE’s Explore Store. Prizes are chosen and designed to incentivize parent involvement and investment in their child’s learning and include gift cards, family trips, back-to-school prizes, family experiences and activities throughout the city, and special PE engagement opportunities such as field trips, social media takeovers, virtual science fairs and more. While researchers agree that rates of parental involvement are lower in low-income communities than in higher-income schools (Abrams & Gibbs, 2002), Project Exploration hopes to provide an incentive model which increases parental involvement and results in higher academic success for students which is also well demonstrated in research (Epstein, 2001).
You can help!
As the coronavirus pandemic continues, schools and students continue to reach out for help. We are still just scraping the surface of the need. While our model is scalable, we will be limited in the number of students we can serve without the support of people like you. Please consider a gift of any size to prevent learning loss and support the bright futures of the students we serve.