Fall-Winter 2002-2003

ScienceQuest for Youth: A Growing Program
by Jennifer Dorsen

What do you want for the youth in your program?

While each kid has unique needs, there are some common goals that many of us share, some of which are summed up in the quote above. Center directors and staff aim to provide a wide variety of things to their young clients, often with too few resources and too many needs.

Through ScienceQuest, we have developed a program that supports center staff and volunteers as they reach for these goals with their middle school aged youth (10-14). In the after-school hours, these youth are exploring the insides of volcanoes, communing with lions, and comparing pond water to tap water for health indicators. Others are finding the physics of skateboards, the daytime habits of spiders, or the workings of robots. As part of a small team, each child has the chance to make decisions and to become an information sleuth who presents complex explorations in a well designed website to teach others. 

To date, teams all over Boston, in eight surrounding communities, and in thirteen cities nationally have worked on integrating informal science into their technology programs. Over two hundred youth have used their CTCs' tools for learning and presenting information. Eighty-five staff members and volunteers have been trained to guide these project-based explorations, and each receives extensive support during the process. ScienceQuest is funded in part by the National Science Foundation and supported by Educational Development Center in Newton, MA. Our partners are the community technology centers, business supporters, and science museums.

Three girlsHow does ScienceQuest work?

The key element to ScienceQuest is the "I Search," a strategy that many teachers use and that we have adapted to fit the after-school world of CTCs. Through this process, coaches (staff or volunteers, but not science experts) work with a small team of youth through the four stages of investigation. The first stage is "immersion." As the children explore, they discover for themselves what interests them, what doesn't interest them, and what they want to see next. During the immersion phase, they can try some water xperiments, watch a video on earthquakes, find signs of the coming winter outside the center, or surf the NASA web site. 

Then we ask, what did you learn in each of these activities, and what excites you to learn more? Some recent questions have been:

  • Have there ever been volcanoes in Brockton, MA?
  • How do robots work and how do they help people with disabilities? (Roxbury, MA)
  • What sorts of bugs are helpful in a garden? (Yonkers, NY)
  • How do the ants outside the center survive in the heat of Texas? (Lufkin, TX)
  • What’s the nature of the universe? (Chicago, IL)

Once a team has a question that they must answer, the rest of the project unfolds over ten to fifteen weeks. They make a plan that identifies resources to help them find information. Some teams go out of the center on field trips, some talk to experts, and some go onto the Internet to find experiments and information to learn more. As they do this, they are gathering and creating content to build their web sites.

In the past two years, we have noticed a few things: the youth involved often become famous around the center for creating their own web site, and the waiting list for ScienceQuest grows. Other times, we notice kids finishing up a project are simultaneously talking about what they will investigate next. One girl on the Mane Page team, investigating lions, talked about her questions about rabbits, since her grandmother keeps rabbits. Bob Hamilton, the coach at Ministry in Action in Lufkin, TX, reported that the kids are asking for more time in the center to finish their project, since twice a week is not enough. 

My Dog Helps Me

The youth can talk eloquently about what they have done and what they have learned, and their confidence shows through. While we do not have the capacity for following the youth through high school and into their post-graduation choices, we do know that youth engaged in quality after-school programs are more likely to graduate and have a positive attitude about learning and school. They show better group skills and make smarter choices about health and activities, according to the National Institute on Out-of-School Time (NIOST). The youth in our centers live in complex worlds with increasingly complex goals for their future success. Through ScienceQuest, youth explore, learn, have fun and get ever closer to becoming successful adults with a deep understanding of their world.

MarquisThe ScienceQuest web site has more information about the project, the youth web projects, answers to common questions, and a soon to be launched section of the site for youth. We hope that you will try a ScienceQuest project on your own or apply to attend one of our workshops at the next CTCNet conference!

Jennifer Dorsen is the program director for ScienceQuest at EDC.

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