Following through on intentions outlined in our 2012 NSF proposal, our team sowed the seeds and fanned the flames that ultimately led to the founding of a dedicated drop-in space where kids can build and cultivate an identity in science. Opened last October at a new low-income housing facility, Ithaca’s Free Science Workshop is providing self-directed exploration, experimentation, and engineering to these families.
For various reasons, attracting more teens requires a targeted effort. This past semester we teamed up with Free Science Inc., the Greater Ithaca Activities Center, and the Ithaca Conservation Corps to offer a high interest experience especially for teens—designing and constructing a renewable-energy-powered go-cart. Specifically, six high school kids met weekly all semester to get something rolling that would be debuted as part of the Ithaca Festival Parade.
The teens quickly discovered that making something roll is the easy part. Making something that can withstand the weight of a driver, steer, accelerate, and last but not least, brake, is a much harder task. After iterating over multiple designs, totally scrapping two semi-completed models, and even learning to weld in the process, they settled on a battery-powered four-wheeled contraption of PVC, wood, and metal.
Once finished, everyone had quite a bit of fun test-driving it. The joy of success outweighed the frustration that had been felt mid-project when things kept failing. When it came time to decide who would drive it in the parade, consensus was that the final product worked so well “it was dangerous.” It was unanimously decided that Conservation Corps director, Jody, would be the driver for the parade.
Opportunities like this allow kids to expand their career possibilities while building real-life skills and a sense of self-efficacy in science and engineering. The outreach and education team at CHESS, while prioritizing education enrichment for undergraduates and graduate students, is committed to promoting science at all ages.