In Search of Genius
The In Search of Genius after-school science and mentoring program uniquely brings 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students the best in hands-on, inquiry-based fun science projects in a team competition setting with an overlay of mentoring and role modeling by local university science students recruited and trained to facilitate the projects alongside a classroom teacher.
Many of these extraordinary Science Mentors grew up in the very communities they are returning to serve, and therefore are powerful positive role models for the children in the program. To this formula, we have also added a motivational currency that belongs to the children that they redeem at our end of the year competition for fun prizes donated by local corporations.
Our work is keeping young children in our most challenging areas out of harm’s way while it also sparks their excitement and helps get them hooked on learning. We are currently serving 600 students at 30 Chicago area elementary schools.
Innovative, FUN Science Projects
Our goal is to spark students’ interest in science and learning at an early age. We accomplish this goal by making science learning FUN. Because the activities are so enjoyable, we accomplish our educational goals and spark children’s interest in science with ease. Whether it’s building and racing balloon-powered cars, creating solar ovens to melt smores, or designing and testing spinning tops, learning becomes exciting and something to look forward to, rather than a chore.
All of our lessons encourage critical thinking skills and teamwork by requiring students to work together and use the scientific method to solve a problem. As one teacher put it, “This program is unique because it incorporates the idea of friendly competition into hands-on science inquiry. Most science education in the classroom entails a scripted, teacher-facilitated experiment or activity where results are already known. In ISOG, students are not given an expected outcome or specific ways to reach an end-product. Instead, they have to work together using their critical thinking skills to get things done. The aspect of competition motivates this thinking to ensure that kids are doing the best they can” (Holly Heneghan, South Loop Elementary).
Inspiring Science Mentors
It is our unique combination of fun, hands-on science activities with an overlay of positive mentoring by university science students that are relatable to our children that sets us apart from other after-school programs. Our Science Mentors serve as excellent role models not only for their content knowledge in science, but for the resilience and compassion they bring from their own life experiences. For many of our children this may be one of the first people they have met from their neighborhood who has gone to college. A video interview introduces some of the members of our Science Mentor team.
According to “The Critical Ingredient: Caring youth-staff relationships in after-school ”: “After-school settings are interpersonal in nature, and the quality of the relationships that are forged, can directly influence youths’ attendance decisions and the developmental benefits they derive. Programs should more effectively capitalize on this potential for caring adult-staff relationships.” A great visionary in the field of education, Madeline Hunter, was often quoted as saying “Children don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” It is clear to anyone observing an ISOG session that the Foundation will make its distinctive contribution through its Science Mentors’ personal, authentic, ongoing commitment to nurturing the budding genius in each of our students.
ISOG Smart Money
ISOG introduced a new program component this school year in the form of ISOG Smart Money, is a motivational currency that students earn for successfully completing challenges, bringing a positive attitude, and demonstrating leadership skills. Students have the opportunity to spend these dollars in the ISOG store at our end of year competition to purchase exciting toys and science kits. ISOG’s Smart Money program also teaches students the concept of interest, as students will be rewarded for saving the money they earn throughout the year. At the end of the school year each child will receive an additional certificate for every five that he/she has saved.
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