Sparking Curiosity

Getting hands-on with students to encourage a future in STEM.

GUEST COLUMN | by Jeffrey Whitford

CREDIT Curiosity Labs.jpgThe world around us is constantly being changed and challenged by advancements in science. Think of how far we’ve come in just the past few years in regard to our access to technology, health care and knowledge. Scientific advancements make the world a more exciting place—they enable us to live a vibrant today, while giving us hope for an even brighter tomorrow.

Behind every scientific breakthrough is a curious mind.

But behind every scientific breakthrough is a curious mind. Without this curiosity—and without a pipeline of future, inspired scientists—we cannot thrive. To keep the spark alive, it is critical for parents, teachers and today’s leaders in STEM to help ensure all children have access to quality education and the right tools to ignite their passion. The best and brightest minds aren’t just reading about science—they’re doing science.

Unfortunately, while experts agree that hands-on education is vital in sparking student curiosity —further priming them for a STEM-related career—access to this type of engaged learning is not always possible due to changes in education policies around the globe, financial constraints, or both. This is a problem that can’t—and shouldn’t—be ignored.

Helping to bridge the knowledge and curiosity gap in STEM is something that I—with the support of our team at my company and our numerous partner organizations—have been committed to for the past several years.

Sparking Scientific Curiosity Worldwide

In 2016, MilliporeSigma launched SPARK—a first-of-its-kind, global skills-based volunteer program that engages our network of 19,000 employees. Through the program, we aim to bring science to life for children around the world—giving students access not only to experiments and the equipment needed so that they can have more fun exploring science, but also to our trained employees and scientists who are with them every step of the way to answer questions and pique their interest in STEM.

At the heart of the program is Curiosity Labs—a library of interactive science experiments developed in partnership with the Institute for School Partnership at Washington University using the Next Generation Science Standards. The labs are typically delivered by our employee volunteers—right in the classroom—and provide students with all of the materials needed to complete an experiment. Teachers can choose from more than a dozen different lessons designed to supplement their existing curriculum. Experiments range from learning about DNA extraction, to constructing their own water filtration device, to learning about chemiluminescence and creating their own glow stick.

Within the past year, more than 40,000 students around the world took part in a lesson. The results we’ve captured through our surveys have been encouraging.

  • 79 percent reported an increase in content knowledge following the lesson.
  • 80 percent demonstrated confidence in science—indicating that they know “quite a bit” or “very much” about science.
  • 81 percent stated that they “enjoy” science.

These results—and our desire to reach even more young minds—are what led us to stem out (pun intended) and expand our efforts in 2017. In addition to adding four new lessons to our curriculum this year, we also introduced the new Curiosity Cube in January. This is a 22×10-foot, retrofitted shipping container that has been transformed into a mobile science lab—allowing us to bring hands-on science to more students. We are piloting it in the U.S. this year, with a goal of reaching more than 350,000 students through a tour of more than two dozen cities. We are also planning to bring the cube to select trade shows throughout the year—giving current and future leaders in STEM a chance to experience the interactive science lessons for themselves.

Securing a Future of Innovative Breakthroughs

Albert Einstein once said “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.”

What and how we teach our children today will affect the decisions they make down the road—and how they will, in turn, teach and inspire others. I am fortunate to work with a great group of individuals who share my passion for sparking scientific curiosity in young minds, and who are committed to making an impact.

What are some of the things that you are doing to spark curiosity and improve access to STEM-related knowledge?

Jeffrey Whitford is head of global corporate responsibility for MilliporeSigma, a business of Merck, KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany. He develops and implements strategic programs in green chemistry, product recycling, environmental sustainability and social responsibility, and directs their corporate responsibility initiative, SPARK, in which employees in 36 countries participate in charitable events designed to benefit their local communities. www.sigma.com/curiositylabs Share your insights below and join in the conversation on Twitter using #SparkCuriosity.

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