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STEM for Girls 2016 Spring session deemed a success

posted Sep 2 2016 10:21 AM

EDWARDSVILLE - The Mannie Jackson Center for the Humanities, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE), and Madison County Housing Authority are engaged in a two-year STEM project targeting minority, elementary age girls living in low-income housing. The first phase brought hands-on learning to 20 girls in order to increase their interest and self-confidence in STEM. Based on outstanding first-year results, the partners are beginning a second phase in winter 2017. The goal is to continue STEM programming with many of the same girls who participated last year, while also expanding the successful curriculum to a third site.

Spring 2016

An after-school program ran from January-May 2016 and occurred biweekly at each site, alternating between the two. Individual lessons were conducted twice, first at the Venice site and then at the Madison site. The program design emphasized connections between STEM topics and the humanities. Each site had a total of 20 participants with the Venice site averaging around 15 girls and the Madison site averaging around 12 girls each session. Girls at each site had the opportunity to participate in up to 10 sessions.

Mr. Colin Wilson, outreach instructor at the STEM Center, facilitated the learning sessions, which drew on curriculum developed by the SIUE STEM Center, the Math and Science Hands-On (M.A.S.H.) series developed at SIUE, and other lessons adapted from existing curriculum.

STEM Learning Sessions





Design to Avoid Disaster

January 19

January 26

Building towers to withstand natural disasters.

Material Properties

February 2

February 9

Exploring how different materials are used to make tools.

Replicating an Artifact

February 16

February 25

Designing ancient tools and recreating archaeological artifacts.

Catching the Wind

March 1

March 8

Creating wind-catchers to learn mechanical concepts for wind energy.

Testing Sail Designs

March 15

March 24

Recreating historical ships’ sails using cardboard boats.

Designing a Windmill

March 29

April 5

Optimizing blades and lift weights for efficient wind energy production.


April 12

April 19

Dissecting different flowers to look at the internal working of organisms.


April 28

May 3

Exploring the leaves of plants and how they create food.

Paper Bridges

May 10

May 17

Building bridge structures using simple materials.

Student Design Project

May 24

May 31

Each site chose a capstone design project building on what they’d learned from previous activities.

During the last week, the girls chose particular projects that they wanted to try. The Venice team wanted to return to their paper bridges activity to make the largest bridge they could as a group. The Madison team wanted to use paper to make origami shapes of different designs to create paper machines such as cars and thaumatropes (optical illusions created by spinning). Both of these activities worked well as culminating events and, as they were chosen by the girls themselves, a means of engaging the group.

Summer 2016

In the summer Hydroponics and Urban Gardening for Girls (HUGG) program, 16 girls learned about the need for access to high-quality, fresh food through hands-on activities on nutrition and gardening. The program ran as an 11-session summer camp from June to August at the Venice site. The girls explored the challenges of urban gardening such as lack of space, soil quality, and availability of clean water, and investigated cutting-edge techniques to overcome them.

Participants learned composting techniques to turn food waste into usable soil through natural processes, then collected composting materials and constructed their own compost bins. The girls also learned how to provide food to their community by constructing a community garden with “lasagna garden” planters. These planters employ passive composting techniques to reduce the need for fertilizer in the future. They then learned about the future of agriculture by building a small hydroponics garden (a garden that does not require soil).

As a capstone experience, the girls developed a mobile device app related to their summer learning. They chose topics based on their interests, such as planting and food games and a quiz about composting. The skills learned in the project are directly applicable to higher level computer science concepts, while remaining grounded in the girls’ everyday life experiences.

The summer session offered children an opportunity to practice important skills such as creativity, collaboration, and leadership while learning about topics that are important to life quality.



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