STEAM Conference 2015: Reflections From Parents and Instructors

More than 1,000 participants attended Scientists for Tomorrow 5th Annual STEAM Conference at Northeastern University of Illinois campus on May 2, 2015. During the conference, more than 200 high school and middle school students taught science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics  hands-on workshops to their peers.

However, this conference wouldn’t have been possible without the involvement and participation of parents and instructors. Here’s a reflection of what their children and students are taking home after the conference.

“When I said there’s a conference where your children are going to be able to build something by themselves they said ‘We’re going and we’re also taking our families’. The process of having received training, talking with my own experience, communicating that voice and now having these families here it’s a total success. My hope is that the parents that aren’t as engaged will get engaged. It’s not just working on homework at home, they [parents] should also discover there are new horizons for them,” said 60-year-old Maricruz Guardado, Morton- 201 District Parents Program Coordinator.

“The teachers at Volta were very interested in bringing their students here, including the science olympians, just to see the whole conference and what’s going on because they’re interested in engineering, science and all the good things that STEAM provides. They wanted if it’s possible to actually be presenters next year. After this, they [students] will have a lot of exposure to the whole STEAM conference. They [students] have never had anyone take them to something like this,” said 27-year-old, Nahla Yafai, Volta Elementary School STEAM conference trip organizer.

“What I like about the program is that it gets kids interested on science and it gives them an insight that they don’t usually see in the classroom. It’s really inspiring for them as well as for myself. Usually in classrooms for experiments we don’t have enough supplies and materials so we don’t get to dwell deeper into what science is. But with the STEAM conference and with Scientists for Tomorrow we give them a lot of background and they get to see things they wouldn’t normally see in their science classroom. They look at science in a different light,” said Geri Catto, Duke Ellington and Ella Flygg Young instructor.

“I learned about the STEAM conference through Scientists for Tomorrow and I invited my kids and their families to come. The kids have been loving being taught by their peers. The main thing that the students are taking away are both creativity involved in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and also that there’s a whole community of people their age that are engaged in these types of projects. How fun can that be to get together with people their own age who are also interested in science and do creative problem solving on their own. It’s teaching them that they too can teach their peers and their friends about science,” said 26-year-old, Katie Spero, SfT instructor at Ravenswood Elementary School.

“We, as parents, have the opportunity to learn and develop as leaders and motivate other parents to participate for the good of our children’s education. As a presenter I take home the satisfaction of how so many parents were attentive while we were explaining the projects. They have the capacity, all the parents have the capacity of learning. We [parents] sometimes say ‘I can’t do this’ ,but it’s so simple. If all parents knew about it it would be another part of our children’s education. The parents’ involvement  is the best because it’s the base of our children’s education. Before I thought it was more complex, but it’s a game, science is game based,” said 46-year-old, Josefina Chavez, STEAM conference presenter and member of Frida Kahlo Community Organization Parents Program.

Lyric Opera: “Carousel” Cultural Afternoon

More than 250 students from Chicago Public Schools (CPS) accepted Scientists for Tomorrow (SfT) invitation and attended Chicago’s Lyric Opera on April 18th for an afternoon full of theater, culture and learning. Students along with parents and instructors got a chance to see “Carousel”, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s musical play.

Before the presentation, attendees got the opportunity to experience theater from backstage. Students listened to a pre-presentation by Michael Smallwood, Technical Director of the Lyric Opera, where they learned about the Science and Technology behind the theater and the opera, its secrets, such as microphones’ location and function, the impact of different frequencies  of the sound on the stage and special effects.

Thirteen-year-old Manuel Perez Jr. Elementary School student, Cynthia Sadie Morales, was surprised to learn about the secrets behind a musical play and had very high expectations of the show. “Not a lot of people have the opportunity to be coming here,” Morales said,”You get to experience something new that you don’t experience everyday.”

Frida Kahlo Community Organization instructor, Ikeem Jones, also appreciated the opportunity Sft organization gave his students from Edward N. Hurley Fine & Performing Arts Magnet. “I think it’s amazing because I didn’t come to the opera until I was 24, it’s good to be cultured,” Jones said.

Parents also took advantage of this cultural opportunity.This was Ines Montero, mother of two,  first time at the opera “It’s a great investment because children should learn to love theater from a young age, that way we plant a seed for them to be future artists,” Montero said.

Claps and a standing ovation were the conclusion of a cultural afternoon where students,parents and instructors took advantage of a unique occasion thanks to Scientists for Tomorrow initiative.

“Music in STEM” Spring Camp: Music to Our Ears

More than 40 students from various Chicago Public Schools (CPS), including Chicago Vocational Career Academy High School, Corliss High School, Lake View High School and Clark Academic Preparatory Magnet High School, attended the Scientists for Tomorrow (SfT) “Music in STEM” spring camp from April 6-8th.

The program, hosted by the Department of Science and Mathematics at Columbia College Chicago (CCC) in partnership with After School Matters (ASM), gave high school students the opportunity to experience a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) college workshop taught by Marcelo Caplan, Associate Professor of the Science and Mathematics Department and co-founder of Scientists for Tomorrow, and Evelyn Oropeza, SfT Program Coordinator. CCC undergraduates and SfT staff members Daniela Cortez, Tyler Davis, Filip Zadro, Maria Dantas, Jose Perez and Andrea Salcedo, along with graduate student Ignacio Mendez, also contributed in the building process.

For three full days, the students focused on building a well-tuned diatonic scale xylophone, and an electric organ based on fundamental electricity principles, which facilitated their understanding of the relationship between STEM and music.

Sixteen-year-old Lake View High School sophomore student, Oleh Lemishka, described the experience as eye opening and enriching. “I had never thought about music and science combined. In 15 hours I found the connection between these things,” Lemishka said.

Lemishka discovered the relationship between STEM and music, but was already aware of the advantage STEM programs offer him for the future. “It brought me a lot of college experience which is going to be helpful in two years. I experienced the pace of work of a college professor,” Lemishka said. Lemishka will continue exploring STEM courses during high school and plans to study a STEM related career in college.

For 15-year-old Clark Academic Preparatory Magnet High School student, Marvin Gladney, this learning opportunity was a challenging “roller coaster.” Gladney talked about the difference between high school teachers and college professors. “It was challenging at first because he (Caplan) is fast. Nothing like elementary school or high school where they take you hand by hand. You have to actually get it and earn it,” Gladney said. Gladney was glad he took the risk of applying and summed up his experience in his first STEM spring camp as full of “friendship, organization and cooperation.”

After 15 hours of building and learning, showtime was here! Students were ready to showcase the product of their work and the valuable lessons they took from the camp in front of their parents, teachers, SfT staff and distinguished representatives of ASM.

Anxiety was building up. Perfectly tuned xylophones served as background music. “I hear the xylophones, they sound in tune,” Marcelo said as he initiated the showcase.

The evening was followed by the presentation of a short video edited by Dave Morton, Director of CCC’s visualization lab, summarizing the student’s experience in the camp.

Then,  two students took the stage and shouted “1, 2, 1, 2, 3, go!” as they played “Mary had a Little Lamb” with their brand new xylophones. Other students talked about how the spring camp emphasized teamwork, organization, independency and most importantly linked the path between high school and college. “It wasn’t easy at all, it took time and knowledge,” said one of the students.

While the students took away valuable skills from the camp, their journey to college is only beginning! Scientists for Tomorrow and After School Matters are looking forward to seeing these dedicated students return and participate in the ComEd Youth Ambassadors and Junior Research Scientists programs next summer 2015!