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John Jay students turn homes into science labs with new program

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Science is naturally a hands-on subject, but students at John Jay Elementary are taking it to another level this year. They have been able to see their work come to life as they get their hands into new experiments. 

Students in grades 2-5 are taking part in a program through the S.P.A.R.K.S. Foundation, which provides STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) opportunities to elementary students across the country with the goal of encouraging a love of science and interest in STEM-based careers. 

S.P.A.R.K.S contacted the district in the spring looking to expand its program to a school in Mount Prospect, Ill. Soon, John Jay was selected as one of five schools to receive a grant for the program worth $68,000.

“This program allows students to build their capacity for gathering data, making observations, collaborating with fellow students, discussing findings, and asking questions,” said Anne Fleming, Science and Social Science Facilitator at CCSD59. “It is a way to show students that they too could become scientists.” 

The grant covers all expenses and materials for students. The eight featured lessons include a wide array of concepts and goals, and involve working with chemical reactions to carbonation, CO2, making slime, and others. Traditionally, the S.P.A.R.K.S. program sends its educators to the schools involved for in-person lessons, effectively transforming each classroom into a science lab. During this period of remote learning, students have gotten the same interaction with these educators through virtual visits.

Each month, John Jay students receive materials for the upcoming lesson, and a live chat with a S.P.A.R.K.S. educator soon follows. These sessions allow students to share their experiences and ask questions to professionals in the field. The materials also include family information so that students can share their findings with everyone at home. 

“I have heard students say these experiments are the best part of their science classes,” said Isolina Severiche, a third grade dual language teacher at John Jay. “They are eager to meet and have a post-experiment chat with a real scientist. I have also received feedback from families saying this has become a family experience. Each member of the family has been participating in the experiment while helping students to use the materials and tools in a safe way.”

While the instruction is designed for grades 2-5, staff at John Jay have also coordinated to provide additional STEM opportunities for Kindergarten and first grade students. The program also provides resources in both English and Spanish, including translated videos and discussions with bilingual educators. 

The experiments will continue throughout the year, and S.P.A.R.K.S. offers multiple resources to expand on lessons once the program is completed.

“From the teacher perspective, the science experiments are hands-on, engaging, and true learning experiences for students,” added Severiche. “They can use their senses to learn, and it’s a plus that the S.P.A.R.K.S. scientists used Total Physical Response with students to define words as solids, liquid, and gases.” 

Overall, students and staff have been happy to get the chance to teach and learn with materials that provide an entirely different STEM experience.

“I have seen many benefits from this program. Students have been provided with unique materials to go through the steps of the scientific method. They have to use their own thinking to analyze the results from the experiment, and the student level of engagement has been high. These are all positives.” 

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