Where Science is more than just formulas
Summer Science Factory (SSF) is an educational workshops-based program for youth aged 9 to 18. In one week of experiential learning, participants come in contact with science, scientific
thinking, and creative problem-solving. Workshops are prepared by mentors that are mostly
students but also teachers, researchers, and industry experts coming from different fields of science.
Contemporary educational systems often force students to memorize facts and rarely provide an opportunity to really experience science. Students are rarely encouraged to connect facts from different fields, critically assess, and creatively solve problems.
This results in the public perception of science as boring and hard, driving a declining interest in STEM disciplines and facilitating a flood of pseudoscience in public discourse. Even though science isn't necessary for everyday life, scientific method and critical thinking make us better decision-makers, enabling a positive change in our lives and societies
We aim to address the situation above by positively impacting:
- Creating a positive attitude towards science.
- Developing critical thinking through experimentation, learning, and play.
- Encouraging choosing a career in science.
- Giving mentors an opportunity to develop their project and team leading skills.
- Establishing connections between mentors, sharing their research and teaching experiences, building a network of young educators of tomorrow.
SSF is organized at two locations in Croatia (in 2019 in Bjelovar and Split). We have worked with over 1000 students and 300 mentors since starting in 2007 in Split. Each year roughly 140 students are mentored by 46 mentors, all facilitated by a ten-person organizational team.
The principal idea of SSF workshops is to investigate the world from its elementary elements to complex phenomena by posing hypotheses that are tested through play, thinking, and experiments developed by students with the help of mentors.
The hands-on approach of SSF workshops stimulates development of students’ intellectual potential and critical thinking, but also entices curiosity and provides understanding of the importance of teamwork and communication. These workshops provide students with an opportunity to meet and work with real scientists, experiencing the scientific method by becoming a scientist for one week.
Workshops are small scientific or engineering projects that students work on for six days, ending with a science fair presentation on the seventh day. Workshops topics cover disciplines such as mathematics, physics, biology, psychology, and are often interdisciplinary. To ensure a great student experience, group sizes are typically limited to 7 students.
Mentoring the Mentors
Workshops are proposed and developed by mentors which are typically university students, but also include scientists and teachers. Mentors propose their workshops in an open call for proposals, and further develop them after acceptance into the program. Before teaching students, we train our mentors in modern teaching methods and science communication.
This program is effectively building a network of science educators using innovative teaching methods to make an impact on new generations.
Impact on Students
Younger children claim they wish that regular school was as fun as SSF, while their parents say that they have never seen their children so excited about learning and science and that after every day at SSF they listen for hours and hours about what they learned that day.
We motivated a lot of our participants to choose STEM-related studies. As students, they reported their decision was at least in part driven by trying out different science disciplines at SSF. We are particularly proud of our participants who return to us as mentors.
We do not yet empirically know the impact of SSF on students school performance. We do have some past students claiming SSF helped them achieve success at science competitions, olympiads, and pass entrance exams at some of the most prestigious universities such as University of California, Berkeley and the University of Leicester.
Impact on Mentors
Some of our mentors report that SSF teaching style increases their students’ interest and improves critical thinking. Those working in science and industry claim that problem-solving and team working skills learned in part at SSF help them in their daily tasks in ways they could never predict they would.
Current and Future Challenges
The main risk for SSF is not raising enough funding to run workshops. We have been successfully mitigating this risk since 2007 through good support of our partners, securing funding from private and corporate sponsors, and applying for governmental and corporate calls for funding. To ensure stable funding in the future we plan to start a crowdfunding campaign and individual monthly subscriptions.
The main organizer of SSF is NGO Science factory. We collaborate with other organizations to hold SSF each summer:
- Mediterranean Institute for Life Sciences (MedILS, Split) is our main partner and co-organizer of Split workshops.
- Science and Society Synergy Institute (S3I, Čakovec) helps with workshop evaluation and co-organized Čakovec workshops in the past.
- Society for Out of Frame Education (EVO, Zagreb) is an organization with similar goals and we sometimes share mentors and equipment. Also, we have jointly worked on a project of establishing educational laboratories that won a Google RISE 2012 award.
- For the last three years, we have also partnered with Center for Research and Interdisciplinarity (CRI, Paris) - their students participate as mentors, and we provide internship opportunities that count for credit at Paris Descartes University.
- We also collaborate with local homes for children without appropriate parental care.
Our organizational board consists of experts from the IT industry, science, and education. This gives us an opportunity to benefit from best practices in industry and academia without being restricted by policies of corporations and institutions. All board members actively worked on SSF by being mentors and support staff for multiple years:
Juliana Lana Prah, mag. ing. biotechn. - safety and quality officer in Ewopharma d.o.o., From 2015-2017 workshop leader at the the project Petica, project of Croatian Medical Association aimed at prevention of obesity. Co-organiser of SSF since 2015. President of the NGO since 2018.
Sandro Vuk, mag. edu. biol. et chem. - SSF mentor from 2016 - 2017, support staff in 2018. Teacher of chemistry in the Vladimir Prelog Science School in Zagreb. Secretary of NGO since 2018.
Sunčan Stilinović – Java developer and head of software development in Erste Card Club doo. Started volunteering for SSF in 2009; in 2015 took over the role of the main organizer and in 2016 founded the NGO Tvornica Znanosti.
Bojan Markičević, mag. phys.-geophys. – teacher of physics in the primary school Velika Mlaka. Teaching science communication and transversal skills at the Center for research and interdisciplinarity, Paris Descartes University, Paris, France.
Kelly Gibbs, educational innovator and master student at the Center of Research & Interdisciplinary in Paris. A contributor and workshop animator with SSF since 2018, Kelly is a co-campaign manager of this fundraiser.
Mourdjen Bari, a professor of game design in the Master of Learning Sciences at CRI Paris for 5 years, he also co-founded Studio Traversée, an NGO teaching out-of-school youths to create video games. Mourdjen has been a workshop animator with SSF since 2017.
What will we do with money raised?
To fund Science Summer Factory we need €20 000. We have already raised €10 000 from government and corporate sources. We will also collect some fees from out participants (around €50 euros per participant) and we are offering discounts (for parents of bad social standing) and full scholarships for participants coming from homes for children without adequate parental care.
All of the money raised will be used for materials for workshops and coverage of accommodation and food for the mentors.
Q: What will the T-shirt design be like?
A: We don't know yet. When we have T-shirts, we create a unique design for that year. We promise a nice design and quality materials.
Q: Is shipping and handling included?