What’s a great way to engage high school students in science? Put them in a mentoring and teaching role for younger kids. As part of the National Science Foundation’s Using STEM America Project, high school and elementary teachers from the Imperial Unified School District are doing just that.
The project is part of the new Imperial Valley Discovery Zone, a kind of “pop-up science center” connecting high school students with elementary students for teaching hands-on science. The project is a partnership between Dr. Carlos Coimbra, UC San Diego associate professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the Jacobs School of Engineering, the Imperial Valley Regional Occupational Programs Office (IVROP), the Imperial Unified School District (IUSD) and the science museums in Balboa Park. CREATE, UC San Diego’s Center for Research on Educational Equity, Assessment, and Teaching Excellence, helped set up the partnership; additionally, IUSD science teachers participate in Next Generation Science Standards instruction led by the San Diego Science Project, the science teacher professional development arm of the CREATE STEM Success Initiative.
On two consecutive Fridays this spring, a group of Imperial High School students, aka the “Explainers,” donned lab coats and guided two groups of second graders at Westside Elementary School through a variety of rich, hands-on science activities based on the Next Generation Science Standards.
The second graders sorted rocks by their properties, engineered different types of structures to withstand certain forces, developed mental models about how bees gather pollen, and explored the differences between physical and chemical changes.
Teachers listened in as the Explainers engaged the younger students in an engineering design cycle project. The challenge? How to build a house that can withstand weather conditions in the desert, such as a high wind factor. Students worked hard to identify problems, trying out many approaches until finding an optimal solution. Working together, kids asked each other questions such as “How can we build a stronger structure?” “What property should we sort these by?” and “What makes up steam?”
The Imperial Valley Discovery Zone is the vision of Dennis and Dan Gibbs, two IUSD teachers who are working in collaboration with their district, IVROP and UC San Diego to develop an array of creative approaches to raise high school student engagement in science while increasing the number and quality of hands-on science learning experiences in elementary classrooms. The Imperial Valley Discovery Zone focuses on Next Generation Science Standards-aligned curriculum, inquiry-based lessons, and broadening the science experience for K-12 Imperial Valley students. The San Diego Science Project, through the CREATE STEM Success Initiative, is excited to be a part of Imperial Valley’s newest science education venture.