EDUCATION MATTERS: Local middle schoolers participate in scientific space program

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A group of sixth graders at Rockford Environmental Science Academy (RESA) are part of an after school program that promotes SAITIS or Scientific Argumentation in Transportable Invention Space.

It’s a research project lead by Dr. Pi Sui Hsu from Northern Illinois University. She along with some NIU students make weekly trips to Rockford to meet with kids from RESA.

“Students can work together and they can apply STEM practices to activities, such as the use of the 3D printer or laser engraver to support rapid prototyping in the engineering design process,” Dr. Hsu said.

One of the activities involves learning about alternative energy. Students create solar cars and sketch their designs in engineering notebooks. Then, they present their ideas to the group.

“So in the engineering roundtable, they will showcase their design and challenge other students’ design and defend their own design which will create their critical thinking skills,” Dr. Hsu said.

By explaining and defending  their designs, Dr. Hsu says students effectively engage in scientific argumentation. They also use problem solving skills operating a 3D printer.

“It’s not a fast process, so they had to make sure that it was small enough, that it would print within the hour and there were five things that had to get printed,” RESA teacher Carol Kraft said.

Teachers believe middle school is an important time to increase kids interest in science.

“At this age their interest in science starts to wane and go away, so I’m hoping that this helps them continue with their interest in science,” Kraft said.

That’s also a goal of Dr. Hsu’s. She hopes students come away with a renewed interest in STEM.

“Love science and choose science or engineering as their college major and their career,” Dr. Hsu said.

Dr. Hsu’s project is funded by grants through District 205 and a College of Education Dean’s Partnership grant.

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