This program was a partnership between After School Matters (ASM) and the Adler Planetarium. In Summer 2014, ASM and Adler staff launched the Science Leadership Corps, which combined the Adler’s content expertise and ASM’s extensive programming network to reach a teen audience for the purpose of engaging students in authentic science experiences.
During Summer 2014, 12 ASM apprentices (high-school students who have successfully participated in past ASM programs) learned about near-space exploration through workshops held at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) and the Adler Planetarium. Led by an instructor and undergraduate mentor, the students designed and built science experiments, including several Arduino-based experiments, that were launched on a weather balloon up to approximately 85,000 feet in altitude. The students and Adler staff tracked, located, and retrieved their near-space science experiments from a field in eastern Illinois. Later, the students analyzed the data and presented their results to peers in a shareathon session at IIT in August 2014.
In the fall, the apprentices took what they learned over the summer and co-led the same type of program for other ASM student apprentices at their high schools. These subsequent student groups also developed four new science experiments to investigate the conditions in near-space. These experiments were launched aboard another Adler Planetarium weather balloon on March 21, 2015, and the results were distributed to the student teams in the following weeks.
During the program, youth were exposed to a number of digital technologies to help them achieve the goals of connecting with each other and engaging in authentic science experiences. Minigroup was utilized to ensure apprentices, STEM mentors, and instructors were able to support each other. ASM apprentices gained a working knowledge of Arduino programming and the data collection sensors currently used by the Far Horizons scientists. The SLC program also incorporated digital badges as a method for students to track their own learning pathways, connections to other disciplines, and become aware of opportunities.
This program incorporated a model for connecting Chicago youth with STEM content experts and undergraduate instructor/mentors in a very authentic science research experience setting. It also allowed for participants to choose science experiments based on their own personal interests, develop peer relationships and leadership within their ASM programs, and demonstrate increased content knowledge gain through hands-on activities. Finally, this program provided social support through Adler/ASM staff relationships for student interest-driven learning.
One very important lesson learned from this program was that, while the program demonstrated success through various evaluation methods and many, many positive responses were documented from participants and staff, the science content and layout of the program was a bit too complex to easily sustain. However, Adler staff have taken what has been learned and incorporated elements into the newly-funded Community Telescope Ambassadors program so it is expected that SLC program elements will be sustained into the future.