Imagine if young students were excited about science instead of being bored by textbooks and worksheets. Their curiosity and enthusiasm could lead to a career in the sciences, would improve literacy across subjects, and would certainly have a positive impact on their local workforce.
Need proof? Ask the thousands of researchers, engineers, or medical professionals. Anyone working in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) will tell you the story of a dynamic science teacher or some engaging scientific activity or experiment from childhood that got them hooked. It’s the love of science that awakens the desire for learning.
The philosophy of The S.P.A.R.K.S. Foundation (“Science Projects Are Really Kids’ Stuff”) is grounded in the fact that science education must begin in early childhood. Young minds are curious about science but often are not given the chance to experience it ‘hands-on.’ If students can explore science and other STEM topics in a way that truly engages them, they will remember that experience—and the concepts learned—for a very long time. “Hands-on science” is the best way to characterize education at The S.P.A.R.K.S. Foundation, which offers kids a foundation to build on and strengthen throughout the students’ K-12 education.
How does a school provide such a unique and important classroom experience when it may not have a science lab or the budget to hire qualified STEM teachers? Pennsylvania’s EITC program has made a world of difference. Since 2001, this program has provided necessary funding to high-quality Educational Improvement Organizations (EIOs) such as The S.P.A.R.K.S. Foundation. EIOs utilize tax-deductible EITC donations from local businesses to build non-profit programs that complement public school education. EITC funding is the engine that powers enriching educational experiences, ignites a love of learning, and energizes teachers and students alike.
How do we know students’ attitudes towards learning science have been positively impacted following a classroom visitation from S.P.A.R.K.S. Foundation educators? Do students who would never have considered a future career in STEM now set their sights on becoming a chemist, or a geologist, or even a food scientist? In a survey of participating students, we found that our programming engendered a newfound love of science in 78 percent of students! Turning ordinary classrooms into science labs drastically increased the number of young people who hope to become scientists in the future. Talk about changing the world!
What are the students learning from S.P.A.R.K.S. that “sparks” their interest so effectively? Our lessons and experiments cover topics ranging from the five senses to kinetic energy and plant dissection, to understanding matter and inventing an electrical apparatus.
“The students love this program,” one teacher commented. “The lessons were so interactive, and they hooked the students instantly. These kids have never done a real science experiment before, and not only does The S.P.A.R.K.S. Foundation give them that chance, but they get to take it home and share it with their family. Whenever a student’s family then becomes excited about education, this creates a ripple effect for that student’s continued love of learning.”
We at The S.P.A.R.K.S. Foundation will continue to reach more students through this beneficial program. Each year, we’re able to inspire young minds to embrace STEM topics, to understand the scientific method, to feel like real scientists with the lab coats we provide (and which they keep!), and by allowing them to ask questions, posit hypotheses, think critically, and perform actual experiments that either prove or disprove their theories. As one teacher said of our program, “This is truly what education should be like”.
Pennsylvania businesses who participate in the EITC program and support educational opportunities like S.P.A.R.K.S. understand the importance of injecting Pennsylvania schools with new approaches to learning. Their generosity has made a huge difference, especially to economically disadvantaged school communities like the ones we visit. We thank all EITC donors from the bottom of our hearts!