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After-school Innovation Drives STEM in Philly Schools

May 4, 2015 Category: Results

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When Angely Morales got a bike a few years back, she discovered that she had a knack for making modifications.

“The first time I ever I got a bike I was thinking of making it better so I added a basket to it,” she said. At the time she was seven years old. Now 12, she dreams of someday making electric bikes as a career.

Morales, a student at Penn Treaty School in Fishtown, is refining her maker skills in an innovative after-school program for middle school students designed by the Exploratorium, a museum and learning center in San Francisco. The program is implemented in Philadelphia through a partnership of The Franklin Institute and local nonprofit partners in five schools throughout the city.

At Penn Treaty, the nonprofit EducationWorks facilitated the program.

“When I get older I want to build stuff and this helped me get started with it,” Morales said.

The curriculum consists of teaching one maker project at each after-school session. These included creating hand bound science journals, learning how to build simple circuit boards, and creating two automated “bots,” one that draws and another made entirely of objects found in nature.

“It’s about exposing kids to science in a different context,” said Tara Cox, after-school and family programs coordinator at the Franklin Institute. “It’s about connecting science to the real world.”

Another student, Jose Cruz, 11, said the program has helped him understand some of the science behind what his father, an electrician and contractor, does for a living.

The program spanned seven weeks and finished with a display of the students’ work last weekend, May 2, at The Franklin Institute’s Science Festival. A grant from the U.S. Department of Education funded the program.

Candace Eaton, organizer for EducationWorks, said that Penn Treaty was selected because of a lack of programming that taught STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics).

Teaching STEM doesn’t have to be cost-prohibitive, she pointed out. Most of the materials used in the maker projects, with the exception of the tools which are a one-time investment, are relatively cheap. The parts for the “Nature Bots,” for example, were gathered from a local park.

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“It’s all about creativity and resourcefulness,” she said.

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