Scientific Thinkers: A k-5 outreach program engaging students, teachers, college student volunteers and families in hands-on science and math activities.

Scientific Thinkers: A k-5 outreach program engaging students, teachers, college student volunteers and families in hands-on science and math activities.

The Need

Students from economically disadvantaged areas face additional obstacles that make it difficult to receive a quality education and continually pursue that education. Many of these areas also consist of ethnic backgrounds that are underrepresented in the scientific community. A program that allows students from these areas to get interested and engaged in hands-on scientific inquiry with mentors in science would benefit not only students, but also their communities, mentors, teachers, and the scientific community as a whole.

The Technology

Researchers at The Ohio State University from the Department of Physics and Office of Academic Affairs have developed the Scientific Thinkers program, a k-5 outreach program that engages students, teachers, college student volunteers, and families in hands-on science and math activities. Scientific Thinkers provides an opportunity for university students to engage with elementary students through a sustained outreach program to motivate the next generation of scientific thinkers from underrepresented populations. The volunteers can choose to visit the school many times throughout the year, and as a result, develop mentoring relationships with the students in the program. The volunteers serve as role models for the students, teaching them how to think scientifically and demonstrate that it is available for them to consider a career in science or STEM-related fields. The elementary students look forward to the scientists visiting the schools.

To date, a pilot program has been conducted at Innis Elementary with STEM student volunteers studying at Ohio State. During bi-weekly visits, the volunteers lead hands-on activities with direct engagement of elementary students and teachers. The program also involves "Science Day" and "Science Nights," school-wide teacher-inspired events that engage students in various hands-on "labs" that include basic chemical reactions, cleaning an oil spill, liquid nitrogen demonstrations, Van der Graff generator experiments, and sound activities. Within the model, every student engages in the experiment as a member of a small team. The small group interaction is an essential part of learning and allows each student to take ownership and gain confidence in his or her scientific abilities.

The program also provides professional growth for classroom teachers with development of hands-on strategies for teaching through the direct collaboration with scientists. There is also continued pursuit of further teacher development through partnerships with established grants including the Math Science partnership sponsored by the Ohio Department of Education.

Commercial Applications

  • Hands-on curricular supplement for underrepresented and economically disadvantaged elementary schools
  • Communication-building tool for university students
  • Guideline for hands-on teaching methods for teachers
  • Community development
  • Educational outreach


  • Benefits to volunteers
    • Communicating science to the public
    • Giving back to the community
  • Benefits to teachers
    • Work with scientist volunteers to share ideas for lessons
    • Provided with supplies for hands-on activities
  • Benefits to students
    • Foster natural curiosity about the world around them and encourage them to think like scientists
    • Engage with scientist role models/mentors
    • Build excitement for a future career in science

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