FiLS' First Fundraiser

The First Life Science Program had its first in-person fundraising event on June 21, 2017.  The event was held during the Harrison Beacher Group Client Appreciation Happy Hour at Tenley Bar & Grill in Washington, DC.  FiLS Director, Dr. Christopher Williams spoke briefly on the importance of having elementary school students take part in STEM education activities.  During his speech he said,

“I have always thought if we really want to change the way students think about science and ultimately change the way they view themselves, it is best that we start early and that is exactly what FiLS does…FiLS helps students discover and strengthen their natural curiosity through physically and mentally engaging activities that build self-confidence.  We want the students to grow into adults that are capable of making informed decisions for themselves and their families.”

 If you are interested in volunteering or partnering with The FiLS Program, please email us at Contactus@FiLSProgram.org.  If you would like to donate to FiLS, please click here where you will be able to donate using PayPal or GoFundMe.  Thank you!

End of the Year Eats: Pizza and Birdseed?

The 4th and 5th grade students of Bancroft Elementary School had their final lesson of the 2016-2017 school year last month, which they celebrated with a pizza party!  In the final term, the students continued to demonstrate engineering principles by making bird feeders from household materials such as clothes hangers, soda bottles and oatmeal containers.  They designed their bird feeders and decorated them with paint and markers.  Everyone learned how difficult it can be to build a simple structure, but we all had lots of fun!

 
 

Throughout the last term of the school year we had 3 regular volunteers.  Two of our volunteers were high school students from Roosevelt High School in Washington, DC.  Our other volunteer was Sweta Batni, Ph.D., M.H.S., M.A.  She is an epidemiologist and project manager supporting the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s Biosurveillance Ecosystem program at Fort Belvoir, VA.  She is passionate about public health and is excited to help bring science and public health education to the next generation of students in her D.C. community.  This is her first year volunteering with the FiLS program.

 Sweta Batni PhD, M.H.S., M.A.  Ph.D.

Sweta Batni PhD, M.H.S., M.A. Ph.D.

5 Fun Findings from FiLS at Bancroft: Term 1 (2016-2017)

1.       The excitement and engagement of the students: The students LOVED the engineering and construction lessons involving their favorite Pokémon.  I think they realized they were having fun, but they didn’t realize they were practicing life and career skills.  They identified a problem, identified potential solutions, performed research to fill in gaps in their knowledge, designed and tested solutions and redesigned solutions as needed.

2.       The excitement and buy-in from the parents: “I don’t know what you are doing in here, but my daughter loves this class,” a student’s father said as he picked his daughter up after school.  #Awesome #FiLS

3.       Identifying the student takeaways:   At the end of term 1, I asked 3 students to let me know what they learned during the 5-weeks of lessons.  They said,

  1. I learned how to improve projects by using new materials and ideas.
  2. I learned how to use my imagination while doing my work.
  3. I learned how to use my manners while working with others.

4.       Program growth: When FiLS began at Bancroft in the Fall of 2015, the class was open only to 5th graders.  Starting in January of 2017, we were able to allow 4th graders to participate.  There has been a growing interest in the FiLS after-school STEM class and we are increasing our ability to welcome as many students as we can.  We have added several former scientists and several current high school students to our growing list of volunteers.  We are always looking for more.

5.       Love for the simple things in life: CUPCAKES! The students took a few moments to celebrate the fruits of their hard work by enjoying an afternoon snack.  These pictures speak for themselves.

 Cupcake sandwich!

Cupcake sandwich!

 Sharing stories about past adventures.

Sharing stories about past adventures.

 Sometimes cupcakes fall on the ground.  The look of defeat!

Sometimes cupcakes fall on the ground.  The look of defeat!

No STEM without the E: Engineering for Pokémon

  Pokémon  pals

Pokémon pals

Engineering

for

Pokemon

 Pikachu and Psyduck

Pikachu and Psyduck

The First Life Science (FiLS) Program team has been back in action in the Bancroft Elementary classrooms since January 26th.  This school year, the students have been busy bees as they combine Science and Engineering practices with their favorite cartoon characters from Pokémon.   The end product is “Engineering for Pokémon .”  Throughout the remaining weeks of school, the students will solve a number of problems that their Pokémon get themselves into.

So far, the students have demonstrated a growing understanding of Engineering and have demonstrated some of its principles.  They have learned to identify a problem, brainstorm potential solutions, test their solutions, analyze their results and then make improvements.  For the past 5 classroom sessions they have been solving two very important problems in the Pokémon world.

1. How can we safely get Pokémon eggs down from the top of a mountain, if we are unable to carry them with our hands?  Some students created parachutes, others created a pulley that can lower the Pokémon eggs to the ground and others created special ‘crash-proof’ containers that can protect the eggs from damage.

 Still in the design phase

Still in the design phase

 After the successful test

After the successful test

2. How can we create a Pokémon hotel where Pokémon can safely stay?  Since each Pokémon has special powers, their hotels must be able to withstand those powers.  For example, Squirtle’s hotel, must be able to withstand powerful blasts of water (from a water gun or spray bottle) since it is a water Pokémon.  During the final week of the first term, we will see just how well these hotels have been designed.  Be sure to come back to check out the videos!

 Who's hanging out on the newly designed stairs?

Who's hanging out on the newly designed stairs?

 Cool artwork inside a Pokemon hotel

Cool artwork inside a Pokemon hotel

We’re baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack!

It’s been 6 months since we have last worked with Washington, DC Public School (DCPS) students.  We have been away for the first half of the 2016-2017 school year as our director was becoming familiar with his new job.  Now that his schedule is settling down, it is time to begin again!  We are preparing to start lessons again at Bancroft Elementary School in Washington, DC in January 2017.  Since the end of the 2016 school year there have been 4 important changes to the FiLS program and its team. 

1.       First, let’s welcome the Board of Directors.  The board will serve alongside the FiLS Director and help guide the FiLS program as we reach more K-12 DCPS students with meaningful, memorable, exciting and educational STEM lessons.  The members of the board are Keisha Ashe PhD, Harrison Beacher, Lindsay Beacher, Elizabeth Tuck MA, and Allison Williams MBA. 

2.       Their first act of the board was the creation of one page documents explaining how volunteers, donors, schools and other organizations can work with FiLS.  All one pagers can be found on the home page at www.FiLSProgram.org.

3.       Starting in September of 2016, FiLS Director Dr. Christopher Williams began the prestigious AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowship, where he is placed at the National Science Foundation.  The fellowship gives PhD level scientists the opportunity to work and learn in the federal government, while using their scientific knowledge and analytical minds to contribute to federal policymaking.

4.       Lastly, we are broadening and improving FiLS lessons and instruction.  In the past, lessons were largely biology-based.  Now, students will address modern day societal problems using a combination of engineering, chemistry, biology and other strategies and approaches.  Our goal is to have students understand how to manipulate and measure the world around them using a variety of approaches.

Science Projects and Pizza Parties

 Title: The Glittery Volcano!

Title: The Glittery Volcano!

It’s been a week since I said goodbye to my first crop of students from Bancroft Elementary School.  It is the end of the school year and they are moving on to bigger and better things- middle school!  I am incredibly proud of what they have been able to do and learn in the classroom under the guidance of myself and fellow instructor Mr. Luis Medina.

 Title: Growing Plants with Different Liquids

Title: Growing Plants with Different Liquids

During the last 6 weeks, some of the students continued with their regular lessons, including investigating the needs of pill bugs (also known as rollie-pollies) and discovering what conditions yeast need in order to produce carbon dioxide to make pizza dough rise.  The other members of the class decided to ask and answer their own questions in the form of science projects.

We had three groups complete their science projects and immortalize themselves and their findings on poster boards.  The students devised their questions and organized their ideas, created a list of methods and materials, performed numerous experiments, and analyzed results.  Additionally, the students were able to showcase their art skills as they decorated their boards.  Each group discovered just how much time, energy and preparation goes into producing a single result or finding.  At the end of it all, we all came out on top.  Everyone learned a little and created memories- and the students also had a pizza party!

I want to leave you all with one of my favorite memories.

Me: Everyone do your best to finish your posters before you leave, since this is the last day of class.

Student: Do we get to take the posters home?

Me: No. I want you to leave them here so that the younger students here at the school can see all of the cool, fun stuff you did.

Student:  ::3 second pause as she looks at the other students::  Ooooooooooooooh! We’re going to be soooo famous!

It's science project season

The end of the DCPS school year is coming quickly.  To celebrate, we have had several of our students begin the exciting process of doing science projects and creating posters.  The best part is watching the students dive into a project head first with passion and excitement.  The three groups’ projects range from creating the world’s best jacket (engineering), to discovering if plants are able to grow by using liquids that aren’t water (biology), to the creation of a pink volcano with blue glitter (chemistry).  The students are having tons of fun, but they are using skills that scientists use daily such as experiment planning, note-taking, and making measurements.

Stay tuned for updates and the progress of their work.

Journeys in Engineering, Technology and Science Family Night at Gaithersburg Middle School

April 20th, 2016- The FiLS Program took part in the Gaithersburg Middle School JETS (Journeys in Engineering, Technology and Science) Family Night.  The students and their families learned how to distinguish Caenorhabditis elegans mutants by their movement.  They were asked to describe, draw, and dance what they observed.  This was a lot of fun!

 Scientist and volunteer Jordan Drew helps buddings scientists take important notes on worm movement.

Scientist and volunteer Jordan Drew helps buddings scientists take important notes on worm movement.

 This student was both incredibly observant and a great artist.  He was able to accurately depict the movement of the mutant worm strains.

This student was both incredibly observant and a great artist.  He was able to accurately depict the movement of the mutant worm strains.

 The Worm Team volunteers: (left to right) NIH postbac scientists Jordan Drew and Camille Davis, GMS students, and FiLS Director Dr. Christopher Williams.

The Worm Team volunteers: (left to right) NIH postbac scientists Jordan Drew and Camille Davis, GMS students, and FiLS Director Dr. Christopher Williams.

FiLS Program takes part in STEAM night!

April 7th, 2016- The FiLS Program was able to take part in STEAM night at A. Mario Loiederman Middle School in Silver Spring.  Students and their families were able to observe the worm Caenorhabditis elegans under the microscope and dissecting scope.  These types of events allow students to be exposed to ideas and organisms that they may not have a chance to encounter during the school day and year.

Wiggling to worm movement!

On March 10th, The FiLS Program participated in Turning the Page’s middle school science night, which was held at the Marian Koshland Science Museum.  Students and parents from Hart and Kramer Middle Schools had a chance to get up close and personal with their newest friends, C. elegansC. elegans is a 1 millimeter long worm used by researchers from all over the world to study and improve human health.  The students examined normal and mutant worm locomotion using microscopes and dissecting scopes.  This was an amazing opportunity to share the joys and challenges of science with young, curious students.

Hart and Kramer Middle Schools are found in SE Washington, DC.

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Eye am starting to understand

It has been four weeks since the students began their journey to understanding human vision.  The purpose is to introduce the students to what their eyes can and cannot do.  We began very superficially using a combination of poetry and models of the eye to learn about its parts and functions.  However, in the past week we have literally gone inside a cow’s eye to learn what its parts look and feel like.  So far the students have:

  • Used models to understand parts of the human eye
  • Performed tests to observe how light effects the size of the pupil
  • Demonstrated their ability to separate white light into the visible light spectrum
  • Created all colors of the rainbow using only the primary colors
  • Increased their understanding of what normal (20/20) vision is
  • Performed a cow eye dissection in groups

In coming weeks we will perform tasks that test the limits of our eyes before we begin using technology to increase our ability to see microscopic and distant objects.

A gift of laughter and learning

In the fall of 2015 I became an entrepreneur. 

I created The First Life Science (FiLS) Program to provide a fun and educational science experience for elementary school students (www.filsprogram.org), and Bancroft Elementary School in Washington, DC was my starting point.  For years I had been a science educator working with programs such as the AAAS Senior Scientists and Engineers Program and the Carnegie Academy for Science Education’s First Light Program, but at Bancroft I had the chance to take the lead and develop my own curriculum.  I was nervous and excited.   I visited the school once per week for seven weeks teaching lessons focused on biology.  I acted as a guide as the students explored the world of plant biology at macro- and microscopic levels.  I constantly wondered, ‘Are the students learning? Are they having fun?’ Instead of asking the kids if they were having fun, I observed them.  I saw plenty of smiles, heard the occasional outburst of uncontrolled laughter and I was summoned to their respective lab tables to share in their discoveries – they were definitely having fun! 

 The Sundews were a class favorite.

The Sundews were a class favorite.

“Mr. Chris come look at this!  Wow, what are those tiny green bubbles?” one student exclaimed.  During our final three weeks the students were examining Elodea cell structure, and the green bubbles were chloroplasts (the energy producing compartments of plant cells), as seen through a microscope.  Each successive week came quickly and our sessions passed in a hurry.  At the end of our seven weeks together, I felt great about the experience.  I made positive connections with the students and parents and I identified my strengths and revealed areas that needed improvement.  Two weeks have passed since the last session ended and I went back to the school to grab the Venus flytraps and Sundews in order to care for them over the holiday break.  Upon my arrival to the classroom I found a few pieces of art mixed among the plants.  One sign reads “Danger! Man-eating plant! Grows fast!  Will eat you! Big Stingers!”  The other artwork, even with its misspellings, gets its message across loud and clear.  After reading them, I laughed aloud and a tear may have come to my eye.

 My favorite piece of art!

My favorite piece of art!

Their art let me know the students learned and had fun!  They enjoyed their experience and learned some important plant biology concepts.  As for me, taking a chance and leading this program was one of the best experiences I have ever created.

Opening six-week session comes to a close at Bancroft Elementary School

Support The FiLS Program by donating at GoFundMe

"Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooo,"  The students yelled when they found out that it was the final week of the six-week Life Science after-school program.  I told the students that I will be back after a few weeks to plan and schedule more activities for them.  Hearing the sadness in their voices convinced me to plan a SUPER SECRET SURPRISE lesson in December if I am able to before they take their holiday breaks.

On November 19th, the opening six-week sessions came to a close at Bancroft Elementary School in Northwest Washington, DC.  Over that time, eight 5th grade students were able to participate in the two-hour after-school sessions.  They were able to:

  • Learn the requirements for plant growth
  • Learn of plant life cycles
  • Use microscopes to examine
    • Stained onion cells
    • Cell structures in the plant Elodea (nucleus, chloroplasts, cell wall)
    • Euglena- single-celled organisms that move like animals but are green like plants
  • Feed the Venus flytrap and Cape sundew
  • Have fun while learning about the world around them

A student prepares a slide to examine Euglena under the microscope.

Their favorite activity was feeding the Venus flytrap!

This was an absolutely great start for The FiLS Program and I look forward to working with Bancroft Elementary School students and staff in the future.  Thank you to the Bancroft Elementary School Prinicipal, Mr. Arthur Mola and to Mr. Luis Medina, a teacher's assistant at the school and a volunteer with the program.

Support The FiLS Program by donating at GoFundMe