“What you do in math and engineering and science has a purpose to it; that there are huge challenges that we have to solve in how we have clean energy, and how to we clean up our environment, and how do we solve crippling diseases like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. And when we give students the inspiration not just that math and science are inherently interesting, and technology and engineering are inherently interesting, but there’s actual problems to solve, it turns out that young people, they rise to the challenge. And that’s what’s so exciting about it.” – Barack Obama
On March 23rd, 2015, Mr. Obama hosted the fifth annual White House Science Fair and welcomed over one-hundred students to showcase their inventions, findings, and science projects. During his speech, he spoke about how imperative it is for our society to invest in young learners and that science education should be accessible to all.
Over the past decade, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education has been a growing focus in elementary schools across the United States. Students have the opportunity to extend their scope of knowledge by learning about a variety of current topics. Through STEM education, students have the powerful experience of connecting classroom learning to their everyday lives, whether that means learning about what happens when you turn on a light switch or why you feel lighter when you’re in a swimming pool. STEM education addresses many life skills including critical thinking, seeking information, predicting outcomes, and effectively communicating with others through group discussion.
WITS implements STEM education through the WITS on the Weekend (WoW) program. WITS on the Weekend enriches students’ lives by pairing STEM lessons with academic, physical, and social-emotional learning experiences at their schools and around their communities. This programmatic framework enhances students’ ability to learn from different perspectives, foster personal and world connections, and acquire knowledge by actively taking part in hands-on tasks and crafts.
WITS on the Weekend students and mentors meet about twice each month. Each program session begins with an energizing community-building activity. Afterward, the community splits up into small groups, and the students read high-quality, age-appropriate content centered on STEM topics. The program concludes with a one-hour STEM lesson. The students are introduced to the topic by a WITS staff member. Then, the students engage in a group assignment with their mentors’ guidance. Towards the end of the assignment, students and mentors gather again as a community to debrief their experiences, share their findings, and showcase their inventions.
During the school year, WITS on the Weekend offers three field trips that tie into the STEM lessons. Previous field trips include visiting the Garfield Park Conservatory to observe plants and how they grow in different climates, Lincoln Park Zoo to study animal biology, and the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) to learn about meteorology and to witness MSI’s 40-foot man-made tornado!
WITS believes that all students deserve the right to STEM education and to use reading as a gateway to unlock and discover information. As Mr. Obama mentioned during the White House Science Fair, “Keep exploring. Keep dreaming. Keep asking why. Don’t settle for what you already know. Never stop believing in the power of your ideas, your imagination, your hard work to change the world.”