Since York University student Leedan Co- hen brought the Project START Science Canada program to students at Driftwood Public School in October, she’s been work- ing on expanding its reach to other schools in the Greater Toronto Area.
Cohen, a 21-year-old biology student who moved to Toronto last summer after two years at Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women in New York, said after having been involved with Project START in New York, where it was founded, she was eager to build a Canadian chapter in Toronto.
“The program is completely free of charge, and the goal is to send in university students, whether they are science majors or educa- tion majors, psychology majors, whatever it may be, and going into these classrooms and trying to teach the students a hands-on science lesson,” Cohen explained.
Project START – short for Students, Teach- ers and Researchers Teach – offers hands- on lessons in science, technology, engin- eering and math. The hour-long sessions involve a number of university student volunteers who deliver a 20-minute Power-
Point presentation on a topic, followed by a hands-on activity, such as extracting DNA, performing a chemistry magic show, or building a respiratory system.
“A lot of times, especially with science, it can be very theoretical and very abstract. That makes it extremely hard to grasp. By doing a hands-on activity by actually con- ducting an experiment and seeing what’s happening, that solidifies what we teach in the lecture,” Cohen said.
“Something unique about the Canadian program is that we match the curriculum of the school. We reinforce and add on to what the teacher is teaching in the classroom.”
Sheri Alcordo, an award-winning teacher who teaches a Grade 5 class at Driftwood in the Jane Street and Finch Avenue area of Toronto, said she was thrilled to partner with Cohen on this program.
“I’ve been teaching for about 19 years, and I’ve always tried to find interactive and differentiated learning experiences for the students. The community is challenged economically, but I don’t let that be a factor in the student learning and potential. I try to meet with different community partners in order to get the kids involved in as many learning experiences as possible that are
hands on and memorable, that perhaps they might not be able to experience other- wise,” Alcordo said.
“The program is just amazing. The time that it’s taken to create it and the initiative by Leedan and her associates… are com- mendable. Educators should be using it and appreciating it. It’s accessible, it’s up to date with the curriculum, and I hope people will fund them.”
Cohen said more funding and volunteers – she’s currently got a team of 40 students – are needed to expand into more schools.
The cost of each session varies, de- pending on the equipment needed.
“Sometimes it could be $10, sometimes $80. That money covers the cost of supplies that we use for an activity. So, for example, we run a module on health, and we’re talk- ing about the heart rate and how it’s im- portant to keep exercising,” Cohen said.
“For that we bought stethoscopes, and that’s something we can reuse.”
Cohen said she’s motivated to bring this program to as many Toronto schools as she can because it resonates with the students.
“The kids seem to love it. One of the stu- dents came up to us afterwards and said, ‘I really want to be a scientist. You guys teach us what I enjoy. What’s the pathway to do it? How many years of school does it take?’ To me, that was a huge indicator that we’re inspiring these students and they’re learn- ing, and they get it,” Cohen said.
“When you go in and you see that light bulb click in someone’s head and you see them really get it, that feeling is what drives the entire program and that’s what makes us want to come back.”