Community Outreach Program Brings Science Lessons to Kids

May 16, 2024 | Jessica Clegg, Cancer Center at Illinois News

Students in Champaign participated in hands-on science lessons during the spring semester as part of a collaboration between the Center for Social and Behavioral Science (CSBS) and several university institutes, including the Cancer Center at Illinois (CCIL).

The collaboration, Illinois Science Explorers (I-Sci Explorers), is designed to bring real world science to young minds through innovative educational programming. I-Sci Explorers partners with the Martens Center, a Champaign Park District facility, to reach local families and students in the Don Moyer Boys & Girls Club.

“We work with our collaborators to develop activities that are derived from scientific research happening at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign,” said CSBS Community Engagement Specialist Paige Duncan. The semester’s activities covered a wide range of science topics, including a CCIL-led activity on DNA. Students learned how mutations can lead to issues like cancer and then used household items to extract DNA from strawberries.

“Hands-on experiments allow students to explore STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) concepts in a fun, interactive way,” explained Stephanie Dietrich, CCIL Educational Programs Manager. “This plays an important role in nurturing young kids’ natural curiosity and inspiring a passion for STEM from an early age.”

Another activity, created by CCIL Educational Engagement Postdoctoral Scholar Craig Richard, explored chromatography. The technique is used to identify cancer biomarkers, which are crucial for early detection.

“The best part about working with the students was seeing their excitement and enthusiasm,” said Richard. “It was satisfying to see them think like scientists, test hypotheses, and reach conclusions based on their observations.”

In addition to the experiments, I-Sci Explorers is introducing social and behavioral science principles into its lessons to help students become more confident in their abilities.

“We’re working on integrating evidence-based principles that can help develop growth mindsets and a sense of belonging,” Duncan elaborated. “These elements make our program impactful and valuable to the community.”

You can learn about I-Sci Explorers – including the other collaborators, modules, and more here.