Glass vials, a row of chemicals, and an alcohol lamp. Perhaps nothing symbolized the excitement of science in the early to mid-20th century better than a chemistry set. The classic kits got kids tinkering, experimenting and thinking about science. In the process, they inspired a generation of inventors and scientists, some of whom became Nobel Prize-winners. But somewhere along the way, spurred by safety concerns and legal changes, chemistry sets faded in popularity.
A new competition, launched this week, aims to find the 21st century version of the classic chemistry set. A collaboration between the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the Society for Science & the Public, the Science, Play and Research Kit competition (SPARK) challenges participants to generate a new set of experiences and activities that encourage imagination and interest in science, bringing the spirit of the classic chemistry set to today’s children.
Margaret Honey, NYSCI’s president and CEO, is an advisor to the competition, which will offer tangible ways to get more kids experimenting with science.
The competition’s top award is for the best science kit prototype with a prize of $50,000. Additional prizes ranging from $1,000 – $25,000 will be awarded for runners-up and idea submissions.
The race is on to get our nation’s kids up to speed on science. With U.S. students getting low global rankings in science and math proficiency, the need for innovative ways to interest youth in the sciences has never been more urgent.
We’re leading the way with SciGames, a new project developed by SciPlay, The Sara Lee Schupf Family Center for Play, Science, and Technology Learning. SciGames uses technology to turn playground play into interactive games. For instance, by attaching speed sensors to a common playground slide, the slide transforms into a powerful educational tool. Instead of simply racing to the bottom of the slide, kids can experiment with different variables, such as what type of material to sit on as they glide down the slide. This turns the act of sliding down a slide into a fun game that explores science concepts such as friction, and kinetic and thermal energy.
SciGames will also include the development of a mobile app that teachers and students can use to aggregate the data collected during the games on the playground and to conduct analysis of that data back in the classroom. This bridge between formal and informal learning environments is a hallmark of our initiatives to improve and reform education in science, technology, engineering and math.
As a finalist for a $3.44 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the SciGames project is poised to reach approximately 8,000 New York students over the next five years. We are one of only 23 foundations, museums and schools that are finalists for an Investing in Innovation Fund, or i3, grant. The i3 program supports projects that will improve student achievement or student growth, decrease dropout rates, or close achievement gaps.
So get ready. If the kids get high marks in this race, we’ll all wind up winning.