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Teenage Designers of Learning Places for Children - Pacific Science Center

Pacific Science Center—Seattle, WA

Project Name: Super Science Afternoons (project overview poster)


To inspire lifelong interest in science, math and technology by engaging diverse communities through interactive and innovative exhibits and programs.

Project Leaders

Heather Gibbons and Teresa Demel

Project Summary

Discovery Corps Teens will deliver science programming to youth at community centers in the south Seattle neighborhoods where the teens live. They'll be assisted and mentored by Pacific Science Center's Science on Wheels outreach staff.

Project Goal

Pacific Science Center Learning Places strengthens the relationship between Pacific Science Center and the South Seattle community through a partnership with Atlantic Street Center by creating science experiences with youth who are typically underserved and underrepresented in the sciences.

Project Description

Pacific Science Center's Science On Wheels teachers and Discovery Corps (DC) high school teen interns were asked to bring science activities to Atlantic Street Center (ASC). In our proposal, we stated that Science On Wheels teachers would mentor DC teens from the Atlantic Street Center neighborhood to deliver science programming to after-school programs run by ASC.

During the 2008-09 school year, Science On Wheels Teachers and DC teens brought science activities to two Atlantic Street Center locations: New Holly and Lake Washington Apartments. The teachers and teens visited each location once per month to create a science day.

During the summer of 2009, Science On Wheels teachers will visit Atlantic Street Center's four-week Math Academy, serving 240 8th grade students. Two Science On Wheels teachers will model one math-related lesson per week for Atlantic Street Center's Learning Lab instructors. Discovery Corps teens will learn how to teach one activity within the lesson. The Learning Lab Instructors will then teach the lessons to the other ten classrooms with the help of the Discovery Corps teens. During the 2009-2010 school year, the Learning Lab instructors will borrow the kits from the Science Center and teach the activities in the after-school Learning Lab program.

Community Collaboration

Community Partner

  • Atlantic Street Center


Atlantic Street Center focuses on helping children of all ages to flourish academically, emotionally and socially in the present, while helping them develop the skills and strengths they need to grow up to become successful, productive adults. They also serve the family by providing a variety of services to parents and other family members.


The two Atlantic Street Center locations are different environments. Lake Washington is a tight-knit community, and the New Holly Campus is large with a variety of activities, including sports and games.

For both Center Locations:

  • 60% describe themselves as African American (Many East African kids identify as African American)
  • 20%: Asian American
  • 10%: mixed race
  • 10%: other race
  • About 1/3 of the group are ESL students
  • The majority are of a low socioeconomic background.

History of Partnership

Over the last 20 years, Pacific Science Center has had a relatively superficial relationship with Atlantic Street Center. The relationship centered around a once per year Camp-In event sponsored by a local non-profit, Blacks in Science. While the event each year was very successful, the relationship with Atlantic Street Center existed through Blacks in Science and rarely led to additional programming.

With the Learning Places grant, we saw an opportunity to engage with Atlantic Street Center and the South Seattle Community in a more meaningful and sustainable relationship. At first we provided science activities to their after-school programs. Later they asked if instead we could train their staff for their summer math program and allow them to use the materials throughout the program. Since the intent of the Learning Places grant is to serve the needs of the community, this seemed like a good way to put that into action. This model is more sustainable because it is easier and less expensive to train staff and lend materials than it is to send our own staff out to deliver programming on an ongoing basis. This will allow us to continue our relationship regardless of funding, build trust and develop a partnership that will help us get funding in the future to deliver programming we develop together.

Description of Youth

Atlantic Street Center Youth

Students at both locations recruited their friends to come to science days. At Lake Washington, the students stayed over their allotted time because they were involved in the activities, often waiting until their parents picked them up. New Holly is a large complex. The students are excited about the science experiments, but are sometimes involved in other activities, depending on their interests.

Discovery Corps Youth (Pacific Science Center interns)

Maryyah and Justin often arrive early and dive into activities. They are really good at talking with the kids. Before science time, Maryyah and Justin help the students with their homework. If students are working quietly, they bring their own homework and model good study behavior.

Number of Youth Recruited (Discovery Corps Teens)

We recruited two Discovery Corps teens for this paid internship to deliver this program with two Science On Wheels mentors. They were selected based on living in or around the communities where the programs would be delivered.

Youth Participants at the Lake Washington Apartments

On Mondays once a month we served

  • Anywhere from 7-20 youth
  • The majority were boys ages 7-13
  • There are a handful of girls ranging from 9-14 years old
  • A few times a month some 16 and 17 year olds come for tutoring

Youth Participants at the New Holly Youth and Family Center

On Wednesdays once a month we served

  • A core of 6-7 kids, with about 5-10 kids who floated in
  • The 6-7 core kids tend to be more academically proficient, because they have had a relationship with New Holly for a long time.
  • Students go to New Holly Center because they have a close relationship with instructors Malcom and Catrice. The Center has foosball and video games for the kids to play with.

Recruitment process

Youth were recruited mainly through their parents. Atlantic Street Center posted several flyers, as well as had an information table in the office advertising the program. Once a few kids started coming regularly, it grew simply from word of mouth. The only requirements were to be of school age and to bring homework.

All of the youth in Atlantic Street's program come voluntarily. No parents or teachers are forcing them. Some of them are exceptional students, but just have a hard time focusing long enough to do their work. They come knowing that instructors will dedicate the next one and a half hours to helping them finish and focus on their assignments. Some of the kids tend to get in trouble in school, so they come looking for a different teaching approach. They have a clean slate with Atlantic Street Center, so they get the opportunity to get their work done without being labeled as "the bad kid." Atlantic Street Center has a special focus on math but incorporates games and challenges so that kids are actively learning and having fun at the same time.

The Learning Places activities were integrated into the existing Atlantic Street Center Learning Lab program as a once a month enrichment activity to augment existing programs.

Role(s) on the project

  • Pacific Science Center specializes in science education.
  • Atlantic Street Center creates a welcoming space where youth can learn in unconventional ways.

Assumptions We Made

Those proven false:

  • We thought we could start earlier and go more often.

Atlantic Street Center needed us to integrate into existing programming and the Discovery Corps teens were not available more often. Because of these factors we settled on a once per month schedule.

  • We thought that teens would be able to teach at a higher level.

Because the teens had been trained to present activities on the floor of the Science Center, we thought it would be a much smaller leap for the teens to being in charge during the Learning Places with the Science On Wheels mentors there as support. We discovered that, while very capable, the teens were much more comfortable having discrete activities to run, rather than running the entire session. We would need much more training and time to bring the teens to a point where they would be comfortable with being more in charge. This is something we do not have time to develop within the scope of the Learning Places grant.

Those proven true:

  • The students came voluntarily because they enjoyed the activities.
  • The teens are great role models for kids.
  • The activities work for participants of mixed ages and backgrounds.

Insights We Gained

Describe any insights regarding any part of the project including but not limited to partnerships, collaboration, how children/adults learn, science investigations, teaching, design of spaces, youth as leaders, museum staff as resources, etc.

  • Danielle, of Lake Washington Apartments, worked within the families' system instead of asking them to adapt to ours. When she collected their rent checks, she gave them information about science activities in the apartment's rec. room. Because the parents do not think it is safe for their children to walk to Atlantic Street Center, she instead visits their apartment building.
  • Consistency and predictability in the schedule are important for having kids show up. When science day was only once a month, kids could not predict when we would visit. Atlantic Street Center has asked us to come once a week to this summer's math academy. We will come once a week for eight weeks if we get future funding.
  • Developing reasonable expectations for teen participants is no easy task. We need to walk a precarious line between high expectations and realistic expectations. Teens are not adults and are not children. We need to provide challenging growth opportunities without setting them up for failure.

Learn more about St. Louis Science Center's YES program, and the Science Museum of Minnesota's Kitty Andersen Youth Science Center