Education student Hope McMahon poses next to a stack of science kits.Education student Hope McMahon led a team from the field experience course in designing kits of science experiments that could be done at home during the pandemic’s lockdown. The kits were distributed through MH100, an afterschool program for underprivileged children in Windsor.

Science kits designed by teacher candidates make learning fun

Underprivileged children in Windsor have a hands-on way to learn about science thanks to UWindsor’s Hope McMahon and five of her fellow students in the Bachelor of Education program.

McMahon and her classmates put together kits containing five science experiments that teach concepts in physics, chemistry, and anatomy. The kits were distributed to elementary-school aged children in low-income areas of Windsor by MH100, an afterschool program run out of the John Atkinson Memorial Centre on Alice Street.

McMahon, a UWindsor Bachelor of Science graduate in her first year of B.Ed studies, started volunteering as a tutor at the program in November. Earning practicum hours for her degree, McMahon began doing science experiments there with students.

“They seemed to really enjoy it, so when we went into lockdown, I thought this would be a good way to continue that,” she says.

With her classmates Olivia Kireta, Victoria O’Beid, Mitchel Desmarais, Connor Campagna, and D.J. Lussier, McMahon ordered supplies online and put together everything students need to conduct science experiments at home. They premeasured ingredients, ensuring liquids were in tightly sealed containers, and packaged each experiment in a separate bag with clearly worded instructions. Each kit also contained safety glasses, plastic tablecloths to cut down on mess, and journals and pencils students can use to record their observations.

They have a dedicated email address for students to ask questions. They also created a website, accessible with a QR code, where students can post photos of their completed experiments.

The 20 kits cost about $300 in materials, with McMahon’s mother, Melissa, covering the largest share of the total. McMahon and her classmates contributed the rest.

MH100 founder Mehari Hagos said he is thrilled with the initiative. A firm believer in education as a way out of poverty, he said the kits are an engaging way to keep kids interested in learning.

“I love it. The kids love it. It’s amazing.”

Hagos delivered each box to the social housing neighbourhoods that are home to the kids in his program. Having grown up in the Glengarry projects in downtown Windsor, he knows first-hand the value of introducing positive influences into the lives of the children and teens there.

“I was being groomed to be a drug dealer,” Hagos said. When he landed in jail at 18 in a crime for which he was wrongly accused, he found an entire cell block populated with young men from his neighbourhood. Later, community advocate John Elliott, executive director of the Sandwich Teen Action Group, showed Hagos a new path. Hagos started working at Windsor Water World, then later opened MH100 there.

He’s now doing for kids what Elliott did for him. Many of the kids who come through MH100 earn post-secondary scholarships and become role models for those who come after them.

Since 2008, 250 children have participated in MH100. They work out, play basketball, and learn about nutrition. Volunteers like McMahon offer homework help.

McMahon said she learned about MH100 while looking for alternatives to classroom placements as part of the field experience course.

The pandemic has posed challenges for the students in the field experience course, said instructor Geri Salinitri, professor emeritus in the Faculty of Education. Students, especially those in first year like McMahon, aren’t able to get classroom placements as they were in the past, so they had to come up with new ways to engage with school-aged children and get practice delivering curriculum.

“This group was extremely creative in finding ways to help the community,” said Dr. Salinitri. “They’ve really gone the extra mile.”

—Sarah Sacheli

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