After-school program experiments with making science fun in West Oak Lane

On Wednesday afternoon, more than 40 middle-school scientists worked to identify a mystery mineral at the Philadelphia Center for Art and Technology’s “Full STEAM Ahead” after-school program in West Oak Lane.

With two magnifying glasses and four cups containing table salt, sugar, Epsom salt and MSG, New Media Charter School students observed the way the substances looked, smelled, felt and reacted water. The mystery mineral was one of the other known substances.

The challenge was led by PCAT, the Foundations Inc. entity which works with five partner schools in Northwest Philadelphia and serves an estimated 360 middle-school aged students throughout the region. The free program provides on-site activites at partner schools three days a week, and one day a week at PCAT’s Eastburn Avenue location.

Science in action

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For sixth grader Nyya Roundtree, the mystery substance was easy to identify because of the way it looked. She said when it was submerged in water the mystery substance turned white just like the table salt.

She also noticed that both the salt and mystery substance dried the same way on construction paper.

Tanea Bowen thought the mystery substance was actually road salt used in the winter because of the large shape of the mystery mineral and the way it dissolved in water.

Instructors’ goals

“The general goal of mine, and what I am doing here at PCAT, is I want these kids to understand and appreciate science so that hopefully some of them will go into STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields down the line,” said Alexis Kiesel, PCAT instructor and designer.

Kiesel noted that the curriculum also includes lessons in evolution, genetics, medicine and astronomy.

PCAT Director Kristyn Stewart said the activity is involved in a two-part curriculum designed to reinforce what the students learn in their respective schools.

“I am hoping [that what] they take away most is an understanding of the science tests and process,” said Stewart, “but moreso that science can be fun that it’s not just sitting in a laboratory and that there is a lot they can do with science.”

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