December 5, 2021

Learning while playing

Students tap their creativity through science program

Jamie Costa/staff reporter

Eli Donlick of Cortland applies tape to his egg tower Saturday as part of a science program for fourth- and fifth-grade students at the Homer Town Hall. The program encourages students to enhance their creativity and think on their own through hands-on projects.

Popsicle sticks and paper towel rolls laid sprawled out next to decorated hard-boiled eggs on foldout tables Saturday in the basement of Homer Town Hall.

Fourth- and fifth-grade Homer students set out to build towers that would hold their eggs for at least 20 seconds. The program, Highkey Science with a Lowkey Scientist, encourages kids to be creative in their hands-on learning processes while bridging the gap between racial and gender disparities in the science community.

“When kids think of scientists, they think of white guys like Einstein with the crazy hair and glasses,” said Steve Williams, program creator and previous STEM and Homer High School teacher. “I am trying to help normalize that science can be for everyone — there’s disparity between people of color and women in the science community.”

Williams said has seen higher enrollment in science, technology, engineering and math programs as parents see the importance of play-based learning and children’s creativity.

Saturday’s project — the second Williams hosted with the help of Phillips Free Library — focused on inertia, force and motion while giving students free range to come up with their own ideas and execute them.

“The public school system was institutionalized by the industrial revolution,” Williams said. “It was initially designed to get them (students) ready for factories by giving them grades A through F, because that’s how products were rated, sitting them in rows like you would see in a factory and constructing buildings that look like factories with multiple stories and bars on the windows.”

Williams polled parents and found they want educational programs their children could take part in during the pandemic.

His programs target students who are most against screen learning, a result of the pandemic, which he’s found to be fourth- and fifth-graders, Williams said.

“Being homeschooled, it’s important for Eli to interact with other kids and activities,” said Christel Donlick, whose son, Eli, constructed several egg towers. “He is constantly engineering, taking things apart and putting them back together again.”

For students like Giorgia Guay of Homer, these programs target her love for science.

“I like experiments,” said Guay, a fifth-grader at Homer Intermediate School. “I like seeing what it turns out to be and it usually turns out different than planned.”

Williams and the students will be back on Saturday to complete their projects.