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Celebration of Service

Solve a crime! Blast moon craters! Fly an airfoil! All in the name of science

IBM volunteers help Minnesota students improve science proficiency test scores with hands-on learning

Three years ago, IBM employee Wade Fode became frustrated with the lack of continuous activities for his hometown schools, and he decided to take action. Through the IBM On Demand Community volunteer program and TryScience, a hands-on and online science activity website IBM helped create, Fode found a solution that involved giving students a hands-on understanding of how science impacts their lives. The On Demand Community is IBM’s strategic global online community that combines the skills of over 160,000 IBM employee and retiree volunteers with the power of access to innovative new IBM technology, resources, training, and support.

By utilizing activities from TryScience, Fode designed the Byron School TryScience Extravaganza! Program for seven-year-old through eleven-year-old students. The program allows adults and students alike the opportunity to learn from each other using specific hands-on experiments such as DNA Detective, in which students learn how DNA profiling can make sense of a crime scene and help identify a culprit, and Spaghetti Bridge, in which students build bridges out of spaghetti and marshmallows.

Improving student interest in science

This year a team of 13 IBM employees and other community partners are helping with the program by sharing their time and expertise. Over the past three years, they have worked with teachers to develop a pre- and post-assessment questionnaire for students. The assessment measures the impact of the hands-on classroom STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) work and students' feelings toward science and science careers. Each year, there has been steady progress in the assessment results.

In southeastern Minnesota, Byron public schools stand above the rest in passing rates on the statewide science tests. Byron schools superintendent Wendy Shannon has shared her strong support of the efforts the many volunteers have made and commends them as being a part of the success.

"It excites kids about science," Shannon said. "We started it in grade three and we've expanded it in grades four and five. And this year, we're looking at adding grade six. Of course you can't pinpoint that this one thing made the huge difference; it's systemic."

Now you can TryScience too

"As a person, my chief responsibility is to better myself and the world in which I live," stated Fode. "As a citizen, my chief responsibility is to serve. As a parent, my chief responsibilities are to protect and educate my family. The TryScience Extravaganza! Program allows me to do all of this while helping other adults do the same. Volunteering has rewards beyond explanation and measure. There is no wrong way to do it. There is no down side to it," concluded Fode.

IBM is celebrating its centennial during 2011, and anyone interested in bringing the TryScience Extravaganza to a school or youth or community center in their town can share in Wade's hard work: IBM has created several volunteer activity kits using the same TryScience activities used in Minnesota. Now more volunteers can help students around the world get engaged in hands-on science learning and fun and feel sound, move ions, or make a marble machine—all in the name of science.