Throughout this semester I worked with first graders at a low-income Baltimore elementary school with the aim of piquing interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education. The decision of focusing on STEM education was influenced mainly by my own experiences. I went to a low-income high school with a large minority population but with few resources. There weren’t a wide variety of advanced placement (AP) courses available to me due to the lack of student interest and qualified educators. In fact one teacher even admitted to not knowing what she was doing for our AP US History course! The lack of preparation resounded even in my studies when I entered college. I struggled in my first year. I even thought that I was less prepared for my STEM classes than my peers. I have since learned to change my work ethics to compensate for anything I did not understand.
As I did more research for this project, I realized my story was one that fit the broader scheme of disparities in education. There exists a gulf between the educational quality in STEM between under-represented groups like African Americans, Hispanics, females and students in poverty and non-poverty students. There are many factors that have led to lower test scores of students in poverty such as lack of resources. By working with the Baltimore elementary students, I hoped to instill a passion in them for the sciences through enjoyable experiments. I believed that the target audience of young children was crucial because exposure at a young age can equip students with the ability to develop STEM apprehension.
At the end of the day however, it is easier said than done. I found that working with first graders required more discipline than I thought. They were rambunctious, curious and talkative. As the youngest child in a quiet household with just my parents and cat, I found it difficult to get them to listen to me. It was a bit frustrating when I was but when the day was over I always felt a mixture of relief, exhaustion, amusement and most of all: the desire to improve myself.
One of the challenges I faced was with choosing the type of experiments. I wanted projects that were inexpensive, hands-on, visually pleasing and simple enough to where the first graders could grasp the key concepts of the science governing the experiments. I found many resources online that provided easy experiments such as dipping dish soap in water with ground pepper, rubbing balloons to create static electricity and mixing oil and water. As we did these experiments together as a group, I would explain the basic mechanics behind the experiment and then enforce the experiment with questions. I discovered that the first graders really enjoyed the science experiments and was pleased when they were eager to learn more. If I could go back however, I would add more spectacular experiments even if it meant sacrificing the hands-on concept and incorporate worksheets into the group work.
STEM education is important not only because it is a source of well paying jobs but also because it encompasses every aspect of our lives—from the bridges we drive on to the phones, or computers we use it is clear that with the increasing integration of technology into society, an emphasis in STEM related skills is critical. While many educational opportunities exist for students there is a lingering problem in our education system that prevents low-income students from many of the opportunities available. Even though I don’t think I even chipped at the bigger problem, activism through education at the Baltimore city school has brought more change in the lives of students than I ever would have imagined. I learned that activism is hard work and can take the form of educating and volunteering.
Links to learn more about the education disparity and Science Experiments: