Bringing Access to Science Education Resources with the Science Policy Initiative at Notre Dame

Morgan Widhalm, the Science Policy Initiative at Notre Dame's Programming Director, shares their chapter's community outreach opportunity funded in part through the National Science Policy Network's Diverse, Inclusive, and Collaborative Expansion (DICE) Grant this past winter.


In late 2020, Notre Dame professor Dr. Cara Ocobock was tasked with procuring a science kit for her 6-year-old niece. Unsatisfied with the options on the market, she decided to develop a lab manual of her own – one filled with the stories of diverse female scientists and detailed, yet accessible, explanations of scientific concepts. Thinking that other science-loving parents and caregivers might be able to use it with their children, Cara posted it on her Twitter account, not expecting to go viral with hundreds of retweets, thousands of likes, and a flood of DMs asking for access. After seeing this outpouring of interest, the executive board at SPI@ND was delighted to partner with Cara to leverage this awesome resource to serve under-resourced students in our area.

 

The main goal of this project was to address the educational inequalities across race, ethnicity, gender and income levels that have only become exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only have schools serving these populations been hit harder, lower-income families may have lower levels of educational enrichment opportunity at home compared to higher-income families. Furthermore, we know that many parents are also overwhelmed trying to make sure their kids are meeting their educational and attention needs while balancing their own jobs and mental health concerns during an ongoing pandemic. Having a pre-made science kit and lab manual would allow them to engage their children in a way that is fun and educational without any of the mental stress of having to come up with activities or the financial stress of having to purchase materials.

 

To successfully implement this project at St. Adalbert’s Catholic School, which serves a student population that is >90% Hispanic, >35% low-income, and >20% English-language learners, one large adjustment had to be made from the source material. Namely, money from the DICE grant funded the translation of the original lab manual into Spanish, increasing accessibility not only for the students and families at St. Adalbert but for all who want to access this freely accessible online resource. Along with the printed Spanish lab manual, students at St. Adalbert’s received Notre Dame branded backpacks filled with an assortment of the pricier/harder-to-source materials needed for the experiments, such as iron oxide powder and rare earth magnets.

 

Notre Dame backpacks assembled with the science kits prepared for the K-6 students at St. Adalbert's

 

an assortment of equipment that will become part of the Science Policy Initiative's science kit

 

 

At the end of this whirlwind project – which came together from start to finish in under a month – the sounds of 4th graders leaving for winter break and cheering about all the ‘cool science’ they were going to get to do let us know it was all worth it.


For more information about the Science Policy Initiative at Notre Dame, you can follow them on Twitter, Facebook, or check out their website. The Diverse, Inclusive, and Collaborative Expansion grant will open again later this year, to find out more information about it, please visit the DICE grant webpage.

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