Stories and insights on excellent education.
From Outrunning Lava to Building Catapults, Success Academy Scholars Engineer Their Futures
Success Academy – December 21, 2017
How can I invent a package that never ends up in a landfill?
What does it take to build a filter that makes water safe enough for humans to drink?
Why do roller coasters work?
These are the questions scholars pose to themselves as they prepare for their middle school’s Exploratorium. During the four-week stretch between Thanksgiving and Winter Recess, science classrooms across Success Academy middle schools are transformed into laboratories, middle school scholars into scientists, and teachers into research directors. The Science Exploratorium, a showcase of self-driven, inquiry-based projects, empowers scholars to put science and engineering into action.
Scholars spend many hours planning, building, and experimenting, using every science class during this period until they find the answers. The projects cover a wide range of subjects: earth science (fifth grade), life science (sixth grade), chemistry (seventh grade), and physics (eighth grade). The Exploratorium gives scholars the chance to take academic and intellectual risks, make mistakes, and learn about science and themselves.
The Exploratorium gives scholars the chance to take academic and intellectual risks, make mistakes, and learn about science and themselves.
Their work culminates in a university-style symposium attended by school staff, community members, and families. Scholars present their work, take questions and feedback, and peer review their classmates.
“The Exploratorium helps scholars grow as scientists in fundamental ways by helping them understand the scientific method and experimental design, but it also goes deeper than that,” said SA Harlem West science teacher Christina Carfora. “A lot of scholars come out of the Exploratorium feeling empowered to pursue a career in STEM. They start to see themselves as scientists, as a part of science — not just as participants in science class.”
Scholars often develop their hypotheses and project proposals together, which requires learning how to delegate tasks and troubleshoot collective challenges. “We were able to get everything done by focusing on teamwork,” said SA Bed-Stuy MS sixth grader Camden Lucas (front left). “You have to be open to other people’s ideas.”
Scholars, like SA Midtown West sixth grader Aiden Mendez, incorporate a physical component like a poster, a tech component such as a “how-to” video playing on a laptop, and an oral presentation.
“I was testing how ash clouds affect animals and plants,” explained SA Midtown West fifth grader Jaiden De Munn (right). “When there’s ash in the sky, it blocks the sunlight, which is bad for the plants, and when animals eat those plants, they get sick. The effects of ash clouds from volcanoes are so big.”
SA Harlem West eighth graders Madison Middleton, Crystal Banahene, and Leyla Murray (left to right) built a massive trebuchet out of lumber and piping after several different experimental versions. “I feel like I can build anything,” said Crystal.
SA Harlem West eighth graders Elijah Napper, Brian Adames, Sambo Bousso, and Juan Delgado (left to right) built a small catapult to test how the mass of a projectile impacts its trajectory. (Small pom-poms were superior to rubber balls!)
SA Harlem West eighth grade scholars Iyanna Ruffin and Aaniyah Scipio used engineering concepts to develop a roller coaster as they sought to evaluate the impact of added mass on the coaster’s speed.
“I saw on the news how hurricanes caused so much destruction in Puerto Rico and Texas a few months ago,” explained SA Myrtle fifth grader Jelissa Olivo (right). “I used the Exploratorium to figure out what caused them.” Jelissa created a hurricane simulator using soda bottles and dyed water, and included images and video from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria in her presentation.
Scholars regularly practiced 30 second “elevator pitches”and prepared for questions from visitors and peers. At SA Bronx 1 MS, fifth graders Emmanuel Cepeda, Dwight Perez Jr., and Reyli Renoso (left to right) used three types of volcano models and videos playing on laptops to show how they calculated the speed a person needs to run to escape an eruption, noting that, based on their own cross-country times, even they couldn’t outrun the lava!
Radiantou Ouro-Bodi, Ndeye Fatou Niang, Layla Nassam (left to right), all fifth graders at SA Bronx 1 MS, helped Exploratorium visitors test for themselves how a tsunami can redistribute plant nutrients in coastal regions.
Scholars are encouraged to take risks and learn from mistakes, and they also share many funny moments. Kailey Galvez, Dana Jones, Aissatou Bah, Savana-Jae Alicea (left to right), fifth graders at SA Bronx 1 MS, teamed up to engineer a drip irrigation system that keeps eight plants alive for a month while the owner is gone.