Our History

Project Exploration’s History

Changing the Face of STEM Since 1999

 

1999

PE Founded

Project Exploration (PE) was founded in 1999 by a visionary activist educator, paleontology field scientist, and a historical researcher who, rather than compiling a list of best practices from literature, designed Youth-Science Pathway programs in participation with small groups of students who engaged in meaningful work alongside and with scientists and caring adults.

These initial programs were intended to launch ongoing, long term relationships with students who were given the opportunity to experience firsthand the wonder and discovery that scientists have access to in their professional lives. Given the place science holds culturally and educationally as a subject reserved for students who are academically successful, she worked especially hard to find and engage students who were not academically successful, science being recognized as perhaps the last acceptable bastion of inequity. It is the last academic discipline of which it is acceptable to be illiterate.

However, science is an intellectual and imaginative experience that offers students a way to make sense of the world using a rational approach based on evidence and critical questions. Whether students pursue STEM careers or not, program design and delivery is intended to provide students with critical social and emotional skills, and support them in becoming astute problem finders and solvers.

2002

Signature Programs Emerge

By a few years into PE’s founding, the cofounders marveled at the achievements of their original students – that one of their original Junior Paleontologist students was awarded a 4-year scholarship to the University of Wisconsin, all of their 12th grade students applying to college, and that multiple intended on pursuing science majors, having not experienced the wonder of science prior to joining Project Exploration’s programs. A model began to emerge, which PE’s leaders began to codify and require across all program opportunities:

  • Students participate based on their interest level rather than academic performance. PE actively sought students who were not excelling in school but were curious and open-minded.
  • Curricula, evaluation, and assessment of programs were co-created with students. Students worked with facilitators to define what they want to learn and how to evaluate their work and PE programs.
  • Programs combine art, performance, research, writing, and technology. Student read and wrote in every program, and most activities culminated with a performance assessment that enabled students to communicate what they learned publicly using a variety of media.
  • Programs designed to foster and maintain long-term relationships with students. This requirement stemmed from the believe that learning is rooted in relationships. 93% of students at that time maintained their relationship with PE beyond their initial experience.

An initial set of core programs began to emerge:

  • Sisters4Science – a program for girls led by female facilitators who emphasize leadership development through scientific exploration. Designed to get girls interested in science, keep girls interested in science, and equip girls with skills and experiences that enable them to pursue science, Sisters4Science creates a science-rich learning environment that puts girls at the center, encourages persistence, and supports girls in developing their STEM identity.
  • Dinosaur Giantstrains Chicago Public High School students to serve as docents at exhibits and to teach the public about new scientific discoveries.  All students participate in a seven-hour training program where they learn about the importance of a new scientific discovery and how to interpret information for the public. Next, students serve twelve hours as exhibit or laboratory facilitators and lead tours, answer questions, and facilitate interactive and educational programs.
  • Junior Paleontologistsan intensive three-week program takes a group of students each summer on a scientific field expedition to Wyoming’s Big Horn Basin, where they worked alongside professional scientists excavating mammoth fossils. In preparation for the trip, students spend two weeks in the classroom in Chicago learning from scientists, investigating paleontology, and developing science research projects.

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Project Exploration (PE) was founded in 1999 by a visionary activist educator, paleontology field scientist, and a historical researcher who, rather than compiling a list of best practices from literature, designed Youth-Science Pathway programs in participation with small groups of students who engaged in meaningful work alongside and with scientists and caring adults.

These initial programs were intended to launch ongoing, long term relationships with students who were given the opportunity to experience firsthand the wonder and discovery that scientists have access to in their professional lives. Given the place science holds culturally and educationally as a subject reserved for students who are academically successful, she worked especially hard to find and engage students who were not academically successful, science being recognized as perhaps the last acceptable bastion of inequity. It is the last academic discipline of which it is acceptable to be illiterate.

However, science is an intellectual and imaginative experience that offers students a way to make sense of the world using a rational approach based on evidence and critical questions. Whether students pursue STEM careers or not, program design and delivery is intended to provide students with critical social and emotional skills, and support them in becoming astute problem finders and solvers.

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4

Project Exploration (PE) was founded in 1999 by a visionary activist educator, paleontology field scientist, and a historical researcher who, rather than compiling a list of best practices from literature, designed Youth-Science Pathway programs in participation with small groups of students who engaged in meaningful work alongside and with scientists and caring adults.

These initial programs were intended to launch ongoing, long term relationships with students who were given the opportunity to experience firsthand the wonder and discovery that scientists have access to in their professional lives. Given the place science holds culturally and educationally as a subject reserved for students who are academically successful, she worked especially hard to find and engage students who were not academically successful, science being recognized as perhaps the last acceptable bastion of inequity. It is the last academic discipline of which it is acceptable to be illiterate.

However, science is an intellectual and imaginative experience that offers students a way to make sense of the world using a rational approach based on evidence and critical questions. Whether students pursue STEM careers or not, program design and delivery is intended to provide students with critical social and emotional skills, and support them in becoming astute problem finders and solvers.

This is a title

Description

Project Exploration’s History

1999 Founding

1

PE Founded

Project Exploration (PE) was founded in 1999 by a visionary activist educator, paleontology field scientist, and a historical researcher who, rather than compiling a list of best practices from literature, designed Youth-Science Pathway programs in participation with small groups of students who engaged in meaningful work alongside and with scientists and caring adults.

These initial programs were intended to launch ongoing, long term relationships with students who were given the opportunity to experience firsthand the wonder and discovery that scientists have access to in their professional lives. Given the place science holds culturally and educationally as a subject reserved for students who are academically successful, she worked especially hard to find and engage students who were not academically successful, science being recognized as perhaps the last acceptable bastion of inequity. It is the last academic discipline of which it is acceptable to be illiterate.

However, science is an intellectual and imaginative experience that offers students a way to make sense of the world using a rational approach based on evidence and critical questions. Whether students pursue STEM careers or not, program design and delivery is intended to provide students with critical social and emotional skills, and support them in becoming astute problem finders and solvers.

2

Project Exploration (PE) was founded in 1999 by a visionary activist educator, paleontology field scientist, and a historical researcher who, rather than compiling a list of best practices from literature, designed Youth-Science Pathway programs in participation with small groups of students who engaged in meaningful work alongside and with scientists and caring adults.

These initial programs were intended to launch ongoing, long term relationships with students who were given the opportunity to experience firsthand the wonder and discovery that scientists have access to in their professional lives. Given the place science holds culturally and educationally as a subject reserved for students who are academically successful, she worked especially hard to find and engage students who were not academically successful, science being recognized as perhaps the last acceptable bastion of inequity. It is the last academic discipline of which it is acceptable to be illiterate.

However, science is an intellectual and imaginative experience that offers students a way to make sense of the world using a rational approach based on evidence and critical questions. Whether students pursue STEM careers or not, program design and delivery is intended to provide students with critical social and emotional skills, and support them in becoming astute problem finders and solvers.

This is a title

Description

3

Project Exploration (PE) was founded in 1999 by a visionary activist educator, paleontology field scientist, and a historical researcher who, rather than compiling a list of best practices from literature, designed Youth-Science Pathway programs in participation with small groups of students who engaged in meaningful work alongside and with scientists and caring adults.

These initial programs were intended to launch ongoing, long term relationships with students who were given the opportunity to experience firsthand the wonder and discovery that scientists have access to in their professional lives. Given the place science holds culturally and educationally as a subject reserved for students who are academically successful, she worked especially hard to find and engage students who were not academically successful, science being recognized as perhaps the last acceptable bastion of inequity. It is the last academic discipline of which it is acceptable to be illiterate.

However, science is an intellectual and imaginative experience that offers students a way to make sense of the world using a rational approach based on evidence and critical questions. Whether students pursue STEM careers or not, program design and delivery is intended to provide students with critical social and emotional skills, and support them in becoming astute problem finders and solvers.

This is a title

Description

4

Project Exploration (PE) was founded in 1999 by a visionary activist educator, paleontology field scientist, and a historical researcher who, rather than compiling a list of best practices from literature, designed Youth-Science Pathway programs in participation with small groups of students who engaged in meaningful work alongside and with scientists and caring adults.

These initial programs were intended to launch ongoing, long term relationships with students who were given the opportunity to experience firsthand the wonder and discovery that scientists have access to in their professional lives. Given the place science holds culturally and educationally as a subject reserved for students who are academically successful, she worked especially hard to find and engage students who were not academically successful, science being recognized as perhaps the last acceptable bastion of inequity. It is the last academic discipline of which it is acceptable to be illiterate.

However, science is an intellectual and imaginative experience that offers students a way to make sense of the world using a rational approach based on evidence and critical questions. Whether students pursue STEM careers or not, program design and delivery is intended to provide students with critical social and emotional skills, and support them in becoming astute problem finders and solvers.

This is a title

Description

What is access?

This word intentionally makes reference to a struggle for equality and civil rights for all. Access is “the ability, right, or permission to approach, enter, speak with, or use; admittance.” For Project Exploration, access encompasses equality in terms of:

    • Gender
    • Race
    • Class
    • Economic status
    • Opportunity irrespective of academic achievement

Our work is at the crux of an ongoing struggle for equality.

Why science and scientists?

Science may be the last acceptable bastion of inequity. It is the last academic discipline of which it is acceptable to be illiterate. It is acceptable in our society for a parent to ask their child “Why would you do a science program? Are you planning to be a scientist?” Can any of us imagine a parent or teacher feeling it was acceptable for a student was not being taught how to read? Science is an intellectual and imaginative experience that offers a way to make sense of the world using a rational approach based on evidence and critical questions.

Interacting in person and repeatedly with scientists can be an out-of-reach experience for our students if not for the programs offered through Project Exploration. The primary opportunity to be with a scientist is in a lecture as an audience member. This setting reinforces many of the ways science exists in our culture: some people are especially smart and we will go hear them. The metaphor of priests and the parishioners are enacted and reenacted, reinforcing the status quo of these roles through time and generations. Project Exploration’s focus on fostering and supporting long term relationships means students have the chance to get to know scientists over time rather than just meeting a scientist briefly, once, as part of a large group.

Essential Practices and Principles

  • Prioritizes Relationshipsactivities intentionally avoid placing STEM professional at the front of the room as a lecturer and prioritizes students getting to work meaningfully alongside and develop longterm relationships with STEM professionals and PE staff.
  • Consciousness Raising – the activity’s intentionally create space for students and the STEM professionals to reflect on the uniqueness of the opportunity being offered and the role students play in the activity. For example, staff raise awareness among students of how unusual it is for any group of students to meet so many STEM professionals of color and elevate them as trailblazers. Often, students aren’t aware of this as a social or political issue—they only think about science in terms of their personal preferences. In doing so, we not only tell the students, “you can be an engineer or doctor or app developer,” we are saying it within a context of the work students are actually doing in that moment.
  • Co-Created with Students – curriculum is designed to ensure students have choice in the problems on which to focus, the tools which are applied to problem solving, and/or give students ownership in how their solution will be presented to one another and their community.
  • Writing and Reflection – programs intentionally create time and space for students to reflect on the activity individually and as a group. Writing, reading and talking using a structured process is a tool for helping students to make meaning, construct knowledge and develop fluency with literacy and voices.
  • Accessible – activities and materials designed in such a way where they are accessible to ALL students, particularly those who may not be academically successful. This includes attention paid to ensure curriculums are culturally competent.
  • Public Component – opportunities are continuously created to ensure students can share their work with a public audience. Ideally, this includes convening a diverse public around science and curiosity—especially people who do not regularly come together—to share experiences with our young people. Running programs with a public component is not only useful for validating students’ work, it is good for all of us. This activity enables students to practice communication skills, to have their ideas listened to; but it also affects the public that sees them. Seeing students knowledgeable and excited about science helps audiences realize that non-traditional students are capable of such work.

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