Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Taking Science to the Streets

These young men from Reavis Elementary spent their summer learning to make model amusement park rides, among other interesting activities. It was an engaging way to learn something about engineering and maybe a little physics, too.

Putting science activities into after-school and summer programs is a growing trend. Test pressures on elementary schools have focused teachers very narrowly on reading and math. Chicago high schools are strapped for the time to do real lab work. Last year, After School Matters piloted a science37 program in two high schools, Lindblom and Foreman, and is looking for more school partners.

Last week, Chicago hosted the first national conference on science outside school hours. Lots of museum educators were there, from Chicago and around the country. One thread of the discussion was how to reach the people who don't come to museums.

One idea from elsewhere that struck me as applicable here in Chicago was the community science workshops being run in different parts of California. How would you like your neighborhood to have a sciencemobile like Fresno's? It's a mobile lab with tools, materials and 10 Internet workstations that travels around the city giving people a chance to make cool things and learn the science behind them. In 2007, the sciencemobile served 50,000 people.

Fresno, Watsonville, Oakland and other California communities also have dedicated spaces with materials, tools and smart staff to help kids and families build projects of their own design. Part of what makes them special is they're located in the neighborhoods where the people are. Many are run through park districts and have line-item funding in city budgets. For more on how community science workshops operate, see this article.

These community science workshops got their start almost 20 years ago in one man's garage in San Francisco's Mission District. After expanding across California, in 2001 the National Science Foundation awarded a grant to help them scale up across the country. You can now find community science workshops in Boston, Houston, Miami, Newark, New Orleans and Washington, DC.

I think Chicago could use some, too. Don't you?

1 comment:

Maureen Kelleher said...

By the way, if you'd like to talk with other people who do this, the Self Reliance Foundation is sponsoring a conference on informal science education in the Latino community in Albuquerque March 26-29, 2009. Scholarships are available; deadline is November 20 and the online application is here: