Four hundred local fourth, fifth and sixth grade students will have the opportunity to become urban scientists with resources made possible through a new, three-year $1.17 million grant from the National Science Foundation.
The project is titled ‘Kids as Urban Scientists: Mapping Biodiversity of the Philadelphia Promise Zone.’ The goal is to foster immersive science learning experiences for students who live or attend school in the Philadelphia Promise Zone, which represents one of the lowest socioeconomic regions in America’s cities. Drexel University’s School of Education and Drexel researchers will work with Philadelphia teachers and scientists to provide local students with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) learning opportunities.
This initiative builds upon previous National Science Foundation-developed mobile apps and curricular activities to design and study an immersive, mentor-guided biodiversity field experience and career awareness program.
Students will learn to identify all species of animals, birds and insects over a two-square-mile region located in Mantua, Powelton and West Philadelphia through the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) strategies project. Scientists from the Academy of Natural Sciences will lead students through West Philadelphia to study biodiversity using apps specifically for the project. Local teachers, science educators, professional development experts, scientists and science education researchers will collaboratively design, implement and evaluate the Kids as Urban Scientists project.
“This is a wonderful opportunity to have Philadelphia youth partner with professional scientists to gain an understanding of local science and apply their knowledge in important ways, including making sound recommendations to improve our neighborhood,” said Nancy Songer, PhD, dean of the School of Education. “We saw firsthand the positive impact a project like this had on children in Detroit, and we are thrilled to bring a similar opportunity to children just beyond Drexel’s campus.”
Researchers will adapt an existing app, that was created for a similar project in Detroit, to fit Philadelphia’s unique environment and the age range of participating students. When the app is complete, students will work with 40 teachers and out-of-school time providers to become “Urban Animal Trackers,” using tablets and smartphones to identify and learn about all of the different species in their neighborhoods and the needs these urban animals have. Students will also use what they learn about urban biodiversity to make recommendations for the upcoming Schuylkill Yards development project. Students can also earn digital badges based on several areas of learning including motivation, recognition and evaluation. The digital badges will also help researchers understand the effectiveness of the overall project.
The project is led by Songer, along with Nancy Peter, EdD, director of the Philadelphia Education Fund and Winifred Black, EdD, special projects coordinator for the Center for Schools and Communities. While the project aims to provide STEM learning and STEM career awareness for 400 children in the Philadelphia Promise Zone, researchers hope to make the app available to for use across Philadelphia and eventually adapted for other urban areas across the country.