Teens Teaching Science to Young Children

How We Help Grade Schoolers Share Our Love for Science

Article by Trisha Patel, Lauren Malenfant & Julia Dorr

Photography by Stephen Neilson

Originally published in SW Lake Lifestyle

Science For Future (SFF) is a nonprofit organization founded in 2012 in California by Snigdha Banda, a high school student who noticed that many elementary school students in low income areas were not receiving much in the way of science instruction. 

When I (Trisha Patel, a rising senior at Stevenson High School) learned about this program, I thought it would be a great way to help younger students discover their interest in science while sharing my own academic passion. An Illinois chapter of SFF was launched in 2017. Last year I became President of SFF, and fellow Stevenson students Lauren Malenfant and Julia Dorr became Illinois Chapter Presidents. SFF is currently teaching science lessons at 11 local schools and has taught more than 1,000 grade schoolers.

Low income schools are often unable to afford the materials or equipment necessary for hands-on teaching of science through labs or complex projects. As a consequence, these disadvantaged students miss out on the interactive lessons and experiences that can spark an interest in science. They are also exposed to a narrower range of content. SFF aims to provide students with exposure to content and lab projects that their schools are unable to offer. Our curriculum introduces younger students to basic scientific concepts in an immersive way while also allowing them to explore topics of personal interest. 

In our after-school programs we cover topics in the fields of biology, ecology and physics and use real-world applications to expose grade school kids to the importance of science in their own community. SFF provides hands-on learning and interest-driven projects for younger students to motivate them to love science and learning in general. We hope that, in return, the students will take an interest in becoming active members of their communities.

Throughout the years, SFF instructors have built relationships with their younger students and learned from each other. As volunteers the high schoolers offer mentorship and guidance as they teach the younger kids new concepts, but the learning goes both ways. Interactions give us as volunteers an understanding of the way that the younger kids think and offers a different perspective on learning and life than we are used to.

During a typical lesson, a SFF instructor will start with a slideshow presentation about the topic of the week. Topics range from the structure of an atom to the water cycle, habitats and biomes. The grade schoolers are given journals for note-taking, and they write down key vocabulary words and points during their lessons. After the slideshow, instructors lead the students in activities or experiments pertaining to the topics, such as balancing paperclips on water to demonstrate cohesion, building clay models of the layers of the earth, and playing a musical chairs-type game simulating varying bodies of water.

This past year, one of the groups we led was at John S. Clark Elementary (Waukegan). We established the school’s first science fair for the end of the session to help the young students solidify their interest in a topic of their choice. The kids choose topics based on either something they had learned or were interested in learning more about. They conducted their own research, performed their own experiments, and presented their research to fellow classmates, parents and teachers. Principal Gladys Rodriguez invited Waukegan Mayor Sam Cunningham to the science fair. Subsequently, the Mayor expressed his thanks by presenting us with a Waukegan Proud Award (Trisha) and a Service Recognition Award (Julia and Lauren). 

SFF has an impact on students that is both profound and notable. The volunteers share that the more they teach, the more the kids’ curiosity grows. On the last day of teaching at Village Elementary School in Round Lake, the kids gave us thank you notes and drawings. At John S. Clark Elementary, a SFF instructor noticed that one girl was not opening up quite as much as the others. At first she did not seem interested, but as the sessions continued she dedicated herself to a complex topic regarding time travel for her final research and experimentation project that impressed everyone.

Over the past two years SFF has expanded to other Lake County schools including St. Anastasia, Fairhaven and Calvin elementary schools. As the program has spread, SFF instructors have seen students grow in their knowledge and enthusiasm. Although we know SFF classes are not a permanent solution for improving science education in elementary schools, we believe anything to help children learn is important. 

Currently, all SFF volunteer instructors are students at Stevenson High School. Our goal is to be able to reach as many children as possible, and because of that we are looking for more high school volunteers to join Science for Future as instructors. SFF asks that teens from any high school in the area who are interested in teaching science to younger students reach out to us. We would love to expand both the number of schools we reach and the number of high schoolers who dedicate their time and effort to helping students learn and grow. 

Also, in order to provide the materials needed to teach students and allow them flexibility in what they decide to do for their research/experiment projects, we would greatly appreciate any donations; any amount can help make a difference.

To learn more about Science for Future please send an email to info@scienceforfuture.com.

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