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Discovery Space program aims to extend science education past school bell

Emma Homan, 9, left, and Kara Leonori, 9, look at a snap circuit piece during an exercise at a Discovery Space after school program at Benner Township Elementary School on Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2014.
Emma Homan, 9, left, and Kara Leonori, 9, look at a snap circuit piece during an exercise at a Discovery Space after school program at Benner Township Elementary School on Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2014. CDT photo

Fourth-graders Emma Homan and Kara Leonori found two ways to make a balancing mechanism out of small wooden planks and rubber bands.

They first built a teepee-like structure with a horizontal beam on top of it — harnessed with a rubber band. When the structure kept tipping over, they moved the beam to the middle of the teepee so it wasn’t as top-heavy.

The students were given assignments after class on Wednesday that encouraged them to think like engineers, as part of an after-school science program at Benner Elementary School.

Principal Kris Vancas said his school partnered with Discovery Space of Central Pennsylvania last year to host the program. It started as a one-day program with about 80 kids, and grew to a four-day program with 102 students, this fall.

“It’s another opportunity to get them involved in science when school is over,” Vancas said.

In its third week, the students split into groups by grade, and were encouraged to build structure-like objects from an assortment of building tools, including wooden objects and rubber bands, magnetic links and cards.

“Our mission is to teach them that being an engineer is not just driving a train,” said Discovery Science Executive Director Allayn Beck. “We teach them all the different ways of engineering, and urge them to think critically if something doesn’t work out.”

The first week of the program focused on space, and the second week targeted health and fitness, said Michele Crowl, Discovery Space director of education. Next week’s topic hasn’t been determined.

“They’re being hands-on with equipment we provide, and have group discussions, and find ways that these topics fit in their everyday lives,” Crowl said.

Four first-grade girls sat around a table together and helped build a structure with the wooden links, rubber bands and cards, and discussed what they liked most about the program.

Seven-year-olds Bridget Bruckner, Layla Shannon and Cienna Smith, and 6-year-old classmate Evelyn Franklin each agreed that building things was their favorite activity, followed by learning about the craters on the moon.

“I like building (the) most because I can make something my own way,” Layla said. “It’s fun and hard to do at the same time.”

Vancas said the after-school science camp will likely be back next semester, and hopes it draws even more students with the goal to keep children motivated after the bell rings.

Discovery Space also works with the State College Area School District, and is in the works of bringing programs to schools at the Bald Eagle and Penns Valley area school districts, Beck said.

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