MARCH 3, 2015
Every Wednesday afternoon, a group of intrepid 8th graders from KIPP West Philadelphia Preparatory Charter School (KWPP) and their teacher, Nicholas Bungard (or Mr. B, as he’s known to the students), board a trolley from their Baltimore Avenue school and head to DM+D for two and a half hours of inquiry-based scientific exploration.
The program, which is comprised of two nine-week sessions held in the Fall and Spring semesters, is in its second year. Last year, Danielle Stollak, Program Manager for STEAM Initiatives at the University City Science Center, contacted Bungard, who is the Director of Enrichment at KWPP, and suggested that DM+D would be a good fit with KWPP’s core values. Bungard says he was excited about having the ability to provide opportunities for scientific inquiry and exploration–something that has become less common in our modern test-driven middle school curricula.
“DM+D really stresses inquiry-based scientific exploration,” says Bungard. “Students have the opportunity to make mistakes and hypothesize and not have it work out. Sometimes it’s hard for them.”
Bungard says that often in sciences labs, there’s a predictable outcome. Teachers will pick a lab that they know students are going to have success with, so students don’t have an opportunity to fail, which is critical to the learning process.
“Our students have some natural fear of making mistakes,” notes Bungard, “and pulling that veil off and teaching them that it’s okay to make mistakes is slowly eroding away their fear.”
Last Fall, students learned about creating and using bioplastics. They experimented with different kinds of bioplastic materials and ultimately participated in a collaborative project where they created a new product or reinvented an existing one using bioplastics. During the final presentation, to which family and friends were invited, visitors were asked to act like investors, so the students learned a bit about entrepreneurship and selling their products, too.
This Spring’s session focuses on batteries and electric circuits. Students learn about voltage, amps and electron movement. They’ve learned how to make batteries using everyday household items, like hooking limes together to power an LED, and this semester’s program will culminate in students making a battery-powered machine. If they can incorporate what they learned about bioplastics last Fall, even better. Similar to the Fall session, there will be a presentation during the last week of the program.
Bungard says that one of the main benefits of being at DM+D is that it allows students to experience working in a real laboratory. “DM+D is reflective of the kind of spaces that the students will find themselves in during or after college,” he says, “and it shows them that a lab isn’t always glass beakers and lab coats. It’s a vibrant place where people are communicating and collaborating, and sometimes it’s messy.”
Students apply for fifteen spots in the program. Currently, there are more girls than boys, but Bungard says that’s just luck of the draw.
Bungard has been working in enrichment at KWPP since it opened in 2009. When it comes to the program at DM+D, he says that he plays more the role of an active participant than a teacher with all the answers. He feels fortunate that he can facilitate this kind of self-directed, inquiry-based learning for students because it adds another layer of understanding that will only help them when they leave KWPP.
“I feel confident that when they get to high school, they’ll be ahead of the other students.”