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By Judy Reinhartz
Get to know the Santa Fe Alliance for Science and what it can bring to your classroom.
“Are you and your children ready for online learning?” This is an important question during the pandemic.
Families already know that there will be a challenging start to the new school year as they juggle work, home responsibilities and supporting children as they learn remotely. There are a number of issues that come into play, from Internet connectivity to taking an active role in your children’s new form of education. While many parents are not professional educators, for teachers with children this situation is also a new one. The question has much to do with control. So, what do parents have control over?
There are so many things that you can’t control, but this article is about some of what you can control -- for example, by making a few clicks to connect with the Santa Fe Alliance for Science.
Have you heard of the Santa Fe Alliance for Science? Founded in 2005, it is a network of more than 100 retired or currently-employed scientists, engineers, computer scientists and STEM educators who are available to partner with teachers as well as families and their children to create engaging learning opportunities for young people.
The alliance is here to inspire and support the inner scientist in all children, so that they will be “STEM ready” to thrive in today’s world. What’s STEM? Science, technology, engineering and math. Our goal is to see all children excited and eager to learn about the world around them. As the educational landscape continues to shift and learning is done remotely, kids should have opportunities that stimulate them to think beyond staring at a computer screen and focus on local close to home issues that spark their interest and capture their attention.
Teachers and parents partnering with SFAFS volunteers means kids will have opportunities to explore topics of interest with real-world professionals. Whether it’s about the environment, animals and plants in northern New Mexico, STEM careers, space or coding, this network of volunteers has it covered. STEM volunteers with life experiences, gleaned from working for top national and regional employers, are not only available to schools and teachers, but to families with elementary-aged children as well.
In this time of remote learning, the alliance has been rethinking ways its volunteers can connect with children, teachers and parents. The result: targeted STEM educational videos. Volunteers produced over 20 homegrown, short videos, targeting topics suggested by elementary teachers and students, and they are catalogued in the SFAFS’s Educator’s Guide in a digital learning library. They were produced with kids in mind, embedding best practices of building vocabulary and problem-solving skills, using more graphics than written text, and including challenging checks for understanding activities and home science mini investigations. You or your children can learn more about, for example, coding secret messages (cryptography), how the water cycle works and want to make one, finding locations on planet Earth using latitude and longitude, how we move, energy all around, learning how the eye works, or how to calculate ratios and averages, among other topics. Those and other videos can be accessed here. Once on this page, you'll see: “Click here for educational videos from various partnering community organizations.” More videos are in the works, so keep checking!
When you think of the SFAFS, you might automatically think of science fairs, one of our capstone programs that involves many of our volunteers in a variety of ways. They support students in developing science fair project ideas, coach and mentor them, and interact with them during the judging process at STEM fair events. Volunteers share how science is done and how scientists and engineers think about problems and issues. Before schools went virtual, these experts mentored students face to face in classrooms, but now the program team members are in discussions about ways to navigate these science fair activities via an online format. Stay tuned for updates coming soon on our website.
Other volunteers are interested in working virtually with students during and after school as mentors as part of what we are calling “Adopt-A-Scientist.” Connecting students with an expert brings a value-added dimension to the virtual classroom. It embeds STEM into the educational mix and has the potential for deepening relationships for both teachers and students.
Having scientists in schools today is one way to support STEM learning and lifting kids out of the COVID educational slide. Student achievement can be boosted by having an available expert involved in the classroom to answer questions, address misconceptions or help problem-solve. Another way is to send a message to “Ask a Scientist or Engineer” at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The alliance also connects with children in our community through the Adopt-A-School (AAS) program, launched in 2018 and continuing at Nina Otero Community School. What is it, and how does it work? The goal of the AAS program is to link teams of volunteers with a school for entire year, providing students and teachers with a host of engaging and enriching activities during and after school. Organized around STEM teams, different types of experiences (presentations, experiments, discovery hands-on activities, integrating literacy into STEM learning, sharing ready-to-use lessons, and STEM fair support) were offered and teachers signed up. According to Principal Dr. Angelia Moore, “… our students and teachers had access to a dedicated team of volunteer STEM educators and professionals who invested hundreds of hours providing wrap-around STEM services … tailored to meet the needs of our 750 K-8 students and staff … and provided critical funding and STEM materials to our school.” Then COVID-19 closed the schools. The AAS program quickly went virtual, responding with remote STEM learning resources and professional development for faculty.
Alliance volunteers are ready to assist children virtually by helping them work through their rough ideas out loud, which can lead to a clearer understanding and/or to finished products. These professionals bring real-world, relevant experiences to the conversations as they ask questions to clarify ideas, make suggestions where to go for more resources and information, and encourage students to be persistent in their learning. It also can be a family affair online.
Children are smart, capable and insightful. They may see things differently and have ideas that need challenging, exploring, and investigating to make intellectual connections that lead to action. But it is often a listener who has the knowledge and experience to transform these ideas into real-world problem-solving strategies and solutions. This model for learning gives students the needed “space” to be creative and to respond to challenges during these times in a non-threatening collaborative online environment.
Learn more about how you can make use of Santa Fe Alliance for Science in your classroom, become a volunteer or make a donation, with by visiting our website.