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Reintroducing Science Day After the Height of a Pandemic

In mid-November, CommUniverCity had the opportunity to bring back Science Day to Horace Mann and Olinder Elementary School after not being able to have an in-person  Science Day during the shelter-in-place phase of the pandemic.

CommUniverCity wanted to help achieve a way for both elementary schools to enjoy Science Day, so to counteract the feats of the pandemic, an alternative online version of Science Day was offered.

A Geology Rocks! lesson on earthquakes

With two projects, 23 classrooms, 503 elementary students ranging from TK-5th grade, and 106 SJSU community engaged learners involved, Olinder and Horace Mann Elementary students were able to have an educational blast with a virtual twist.

The two projects that brought Science Day back to Horace Mann were Engineering in Action and Geology Rocks!, and Geology Rocks! at Olinder Elementary. Both projects were led by Project Coordinator Cristine Nguyen, a passionate Child and Adolescent Development major in her senior year.

Geology Rocks! (cool title, we know) is one of CommUniverCity’s newer projects and a sister project to EIA that exposes young children to the physical substance and structure on the very planet we live on. 

According to CensusReporter, 62% of adults who reside in the Horace Mann and Olinder neighborhood have an educational attainment of a high school diploma or higher, which is about two-thirds of San Jose’s rate which is at 84%.

One of the most important goals of Engineering in Action and Geology Rocks! is to get the underrepresented students familiar with these concepts at an early age so that they can be encouraged to pursue a career in the STEM field later on in life.

SJSU student engaged learner demonstrating how a 3D printer works.

So on Science Day, the elementary students were able to learn about geology topics such as volcanoes, earthquakes, and minerals, and STEM topics such as how temperature affects polymers as well as how 3D printers work. 

“A polymer is a structure made of small repeating units,” Sophia, a 4th grader, learned.

“Heating it makes it flexible before breaking… I thought that a polymer was going to be something else!”

To be able to engage young students through a computer screen can be a challenging thing, but with the help of the SJSU community engaged leaders, Professors Leanna Teruya, Emi Ishida, and Dr. Michael Oye, the younglings were able to have a blast while learning!

The SJSU engaged leaders put their creativity and critical thinking skills to the test by implementing interactive games or other activities such as learning sign language over Zoom so that the young students can participate in the lessons.

A particular lesson that stood out was during a 3D printing lesson where one of the SJSU students was able to do a live demonstration of how 3D printing works by showing the class the 3D printer they had at home.

Science Day lessons at Horace Mann Elementary were offered to 4 ALA classrooms and 1 ALA classroom at Olinder Elementary. Some of the presentations were given entirely in Spanish. Even the feedback worksheets given at the end of the lessons were in Spanish so that the ALA students had the same opportunity to express their experience just as much as the English speaking students did.

Translation: I learned about volcanoes, earthquakes, and tsunamis, and that you always need to protect yourself under something while there is an earthquake.

Not only did Science Day positively affect the young students, but the SJSU students as well.

Many of the engineering and geology students found that teaching the youth benefited themselves by reestablishing certain concepts into the simplest terms for an audience that aren’t college students.

“I learned more about catering to younger audiences, I’ve been so used to making sure the content is right and presenting it through. With this, not only does the content have to be accurate but digestible and interesting for younger brains to comprehend,” said Giselle Alvarez, a Civil Engineering major in GEOL 02, a geology class specifically for engineering students.

In a post-event survey, nearly all the teachers from both elementary schools found that their students were able to learn complicated STEM concepts into its simplest form. 

The significance of bringing back Science Day after nearly two years is that majority of the children that attend Horace Mann and Olinder Elementary come from underrepresented backgrounds where they don’t have the opportunity to learn about various subjects outside of school, so exposing them to STEM gives them a head start in promoting academic success.

From Cristine Nguyen, EIA and Geology Rocks! Project Coordinator:

When I was first asked to be a project coordinator for EIA and Geology Rocks, I was definitely intimidated. The idea of networking with future bosses, coworkers, and peers sounded so daunting, but the main thing that kept me motivated was the ability to give the SJSU students an opportunity to see just how impactful working with children can be. Children have bright minds, unprecedented honesty, and unique perspectives that can be showcased if someone is willing to listen, and connecting the SJSU students to the K – 8 students felt like we were giving them that outlet. There was nothing more uplifting than seeing the genuine excitement between the SJSU students and the K – 8 students as they interacted with one another. I really think that CommUniverCity’s programs often serve as educational advocates for children in our community so I’m really proud to be a part of that through EIA and Geology Rocks. This experience really solidified my desire to work with children in education and I’m extremely grateful to CommUniverCity for giving me the opportunity.

Cristine would also like to thank CommUniverCity Special Programs manager Elizabeth Figueroa and Department Analyst Matthew Snyder for helping with planning!

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