everyday SCIENCE Science Learning Among Kids of All Ages

A group of teens from the St. Louis Science Center surveyed a large room in a homeless shelter. As participants in a program called “Teenage Designers of Learning Spaces,” the teens were trying to figure out how to transform the space into an area in which young children, residents of the shelter, could learn more about botany.

The teens faced many obstacles. The room was dark, although there was a set of French doors leading to a patio. While they considered growing plants on the patio, they quickly noticed that it was structurally unsound, making it impossible for the kids to go out there. But light did shine through from the patio.

Working together, the teens came up with an ingenious idea: They took a clear shoe bag and hung it on the door. In each pocket, they planted a different kind of flower. Then they developed a field guide to explain the parts of plants and what the plants needed to grow.

“The results were amazing,” explains Diane Miller, vice president of education at the St. Louis Science Center and director of the project. “Flowers were growing everywhere. Everyone—staff, the teens, and the young residents of the sheltercouldn’t believe that what was once a bulb was now a tulip. And they also learned that it’s a good thing to get dirty sometimes. You can touch dirt, you can grow plants, be fascinated by it.”

No one was prouder of their success in growing plants than the teens themselves. They had been working toward this goal for quite a while. For 2 years, they went to the science center every Saturday during the school year and every day during the summer as part of the program. They learned how to conduct scientific investigations and acquired other skills they would need to work with younger kids and to modify their assigned spaces to get the best results. Their persistence and hard work paid off.

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