Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, everything seems to be disrupted. Children are staying at home and it might be exhausting to handle their curiosities and boredom. However, I’ve realized first-hand that this is a great time to engage in quality activities with them to build their interest in STEM.
Before the pandemic, I had the opportunity to be part of a biology outreach program called T.A.B.S. (Teaching Alternative Biological Sciences)—a winter camp for kids conducted by Cambrionics Life Science. Due to my previous outreach experience at SWE, I had the courage to get involved with this opportunity.
I am from Chennai and have worked toward SWE India initiatives for over two years. Being in SWE helped open me up to opportunities that I had never pondered before. SWE programs, such as STEM outreach, made me realize I like interacting with kids and helping them understand STEM concepts using a hands-on approach. I personally believe every SWE member should try being part of an outreach or SWENext program for a wonderful learning experience.
I was surprised to learn how life sciences has become a somewhat neglected subject in India; many schools in Chennai stopped offering biology in the high school curriculum. The camp happened at 12 locations in Chennai and around 150 kids participated. It was three days of hands-on learning for children to cultivate interest in biological phenomena around us. What I appreciated the most is that these lessons had a real-life purpose. Each experiment on each day had a theme that was correlated to a social cause.
Day 1: Blood
There were two experiments to learn about blood typing and blood grouping along with a bingo game to identify similar and different traits within them. An awareness on blood donation was conveyed in terms of why and how, along with some guidelines of being healthy.
Day 2: Ecology
Experiments were conducted to illustrate how soil erosion can be prevented by mulch and different natural resources in the environment. Also, a model using animal and plant toys showed how ecology impacts the food cycle, ultimately determining the sustenance of organisms.
Day 3: Pollution and Forensic science
The kids learned about types of pollutants and how to detect them. There was an experiment cleaning oil spills with used materials such as feathers, cotton, etc. There was also a glimpse into forensic science and how it is used to solve crimes using fingerprints and blood splatter analysis.
My takeaways from these sessions as a facilitator are:
- Don’t interfere when a kid is trying the experiment, let them fail or succeed on their own. Most importantly let them learn to attempt again until they get it right.
- Always encourage kids to express their hesitations or doubts; remember that curiosity begins with lots of questions (even “silly” ones).
- Take notes about the topic and experiment to be performed.
- Inform participants about safety guidelines before beginning any experiment.
- Use protective gear like gloves and masks for certain experiments to stimulate the actual scenario of working in a lab.
- Be patient—learning takes time.
- Try using ice breakers at the start of a session to help the kids feel more at ease.
- If you don’t know the answer to a question, admit it and tell them you will find out and let them know later.
- Have the lesson and steps written on paper for ease of covering all topics.
Interested in learning more about STEM activities you can try with you children? Here are some SWE resources on interesting STEM experiments for kids: