Curiologie program at Shaw Center City public Charter School

Volunteer Leanora Hernandez responds to an inquiry from Volunteer Bob Hauptman about this past semester’s Curiologie program at Shaw Center City public Charter School in NW DC, below.

If we have a Saturday meeting with a full class of 20+ students, we usually break the kids up into five groups of 5-7 students with 1-2 volunteers leading a small group discussion/experiment. The students tend to sit with other kids in the same grade, so usually everyone is grouped by grade/age. This allows us to tailor our lesson to the age group. With the 8th grade group we have the chance to go more into more complexities, and with the younger groups we are able to give a broader foundation to understand the lesson. When younger siblings attend they usually opt to sit by their brother/sister, but it works out fine because the older sibling usually mentors the younger one – it is truly a joy to watch. Also, many of the younger kids are less afraid of asking more basic questions, so it seems to benefit the group in terms of gaining a broad understanding.

Although our volunteers work in biomedical science, our program tries to cover all areas in STEM – this year we’ve done experiments in engineering, physics, earth science, chemistry, physiology, and general biology. I’d love to hear more about what you have had success with in the classroom – maybe we can adapt your ideas to fit our age group. In our hands-on approach we use models and specimen samples. We design our experiments in a way that allows each student pair (or small group) to have their own experimental set up. In organizing things this way, we have the opportunity to guide the students through a protocol, gather data, and analyze the results. We like to wrap up our sessions with a group discussion to give the students an opportunity to compare results just like real scientists do. I think this has been very beneficial for the students because they get a chance to practice science instead of just observe or hear about it. This approach also enables us to go beyond what our teacher is able to do during school hours since we have more time and more volunteers.

If we have a Saturday meeting with a full class of 20+ students, we usually break the kids up into five groups of 5-7 students with 1-2 volunteers leading a small group discussion/experiment. The students tend to sit with other kids in the same grade, so usually everyone is grouped by grade/age. This allows us to tailor our lesson to the age group. With the 8th grade group we have the chance to go more into more complexities, and with the younger groups we are able to give a broader foundation to understand the lesson. When younger siblings attend they usually opt to sit by their brother/sister, but it works out fine because the older sibling usually mentors the younger one – it is truly a joy to watch. Also, many of the younger kids are less afraid of asking more basic questions, so it seems to benefit the group in terms of gaining a broad understanding.

Although our volunteers work in biomedical science, our program tries to cover all areas in STEM – this year we’ve done experiments in engineering, physics, earth science, chemistry, physiology, and general biology. I’d love to hear more about what you have had success with in the classroom – maybe we can adapt your ideas to fit our age group. In our hands-on approach we use models and specimen samples. We design our experiments in a way that allows each student pair (or small group) to have their own experimental set up. In organizing things this way, we have the opportunity to guide the students through a protocol, gather data, and analyze the results. We like to wrap up our sessions with a group discussion to give the students an opportunity to compare results just like real scientists do. I think this has been very beneficial for the students because they get a chance to practice science instead of just observe or hear about it. This approach also enables us to go beyond what our teacher is able to do during school hours since we have more time and more volunteers.

If you are interested, I think squishy circuits could work for four year olds. We had some younger siblings at this session, and they had a ton of fun! I have some supplies if you ever want to borrow them (I have 10 sets of batter packs and about 60 LEDS). With squishy circuits you can make the lesson as simple or complex as you like. For the younger siblings we stuck to a simple circuits and described the polarity of the LEDs as having left and right shoes. We explained that the only way to make the LED light up is to complete the circuit by putting correct “foot” (leg of the LED) in the correct “shoe” (conductive/inductive dough).

For our brain experiment we had both a plastic brain model and actual brains of mice, sheep, and pig. We fixed the brains in solution and gave the students gloves and face masks so they could touch a real brain. As they were looking at the specimens we asked them to guess what animal the brain came from, and to identify at least one lobe of the brain and what it was used for. Many of the students had good questions, especially about brain size and processing power. It was really fun to see them making connections from things that we taught earlier in the day. I’ve attached a copy of the lesson plan that we made for the brain experiment.

As far as field trips, we went on two this year. For the first, we took the group to the USA Science and Engineering Festival. I believe it is only held every two years, but it was a lot of fun. There were demos, hands on activities, presentations, and many other things geared for all ages levels. This was nice for our group because our school is about a 5 minute walk away from the Convention Center in downtown D.C. We had so much fun! The second field trip was on a Living Classroom boat. The students went kayaking, collected and analyzed water samples, and performed bivalve dissections. The students who were able to attend had the time of their lives! Our teacher said they were so excited to share the experience with their classmates on Monday. John actually helped to set this up so the our students didn’t have to pay to participate – I think it was through a grant that Living Classrooms has to bring more minority or low income students on board. I highly recomps.

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