Bernie Zubrowski has spent much of his professional life devising ways to educate young people when they are out in the world, away from the classroom. In more than 23 years with Boston’s Children’s Museum and other museums in the United States, Great Britain, India, Sweden, and Bahrain—and in several EDC projects—Zubrowski’s quest has led him to design activities that illuminate scientific principles with very simple materials. Under his guidance, children have made houses out of drinking straws, tops out of paper plates, and cars powered by balloons; they have concocted cakes and ice creams, invented sodas, and played with mirrors, shadows, and waves.
In two recent projects funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), Zubrowksi and his colleagues Charlie Hutchison and Catherine McCulloch in EDC’s Center for Science Education (CSE) have developed a series of science and engineering programs for use in museums and other out-of-school programs. Both projects were carried out in collaboration with the National Institute of Out-of-School Time (NIOST) and a network of science centers and museums across the United States. In addition to providing extended science projects for children ages 7-12, the projects set out to build collaborative relationships between science centers and community-based after school programs.
In the Design It! project, CSE and NIOST worked with six science centers and museums and more than 30 after school programs nationwide to implement special programming in design engineering for elementary school-aged children (ages 7-12). These extended design engineering activities challenge children to build and refine working models of small machines and toys (such as balloon-powered cars, sand clocks, and string telephones) over three to six weeks. While engaging in the activities, children gain experience in physical science, problem-solving, experimentation, and collaboration as well as practical familiarity with a wide range of safe, inexpensive, and commonly available construction materials.
In the Explore It! project, CSE and NIOST are developing an afterschool science curriculum in which children explore familiar phenomena (such as water movement, rolling and spinning motion, bubbles, and balance) in an extended manner using simple materials to foster science learning. These investigations provide an experiential foundation for the development of concepts that are addressed in formal school curricula. The curriculum includes units on such topics as heating houses and ovens, siphon systems, and wiring a house.
The Designing Youth and Yes-2-Tech science programs are natural successors at the middle- and high- school levels to Design It! and Explore It! In both of these programs, also funded by NSF, Charlie Hutchison has worked with the St Louis Science Center to train urban adolescents and their youth workers to lead hands-on science and engineering activities with elementary school-age students in their community. Both the teens and the younger students they work with are mostly from traditionally underserved populations that have a high academic failure rate and a low representation in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers.
Originally published on January 1, 2006