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NewsJul 15, 2021

Inspiring summer fun and outdoor learning through play and curiosity

Faculty, staff and alumni lead professional development workshop centered on the wonder of water

Dr. Susan Rauchwerk leading youth counselors in activity
Dr. Susan Rauchwerk, right, leads Cambridge Youth Programs counselors through an activity that illustrates the flow of watersheds as part of a professional development workshop. Lesley faculty, staff, alumni and students worked with the city of Cambridge in this recent program at the Frisoli Youth Center.

Summertime is made for playing outdoors and, when water is involved, so much the better.

But water, essential for life, is also a powerful education tool, as our faculty, staff, alumni and students recently showed a group of about 40 youth workers and program leadership staff from Cambridge Youth Programs during a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) professional development workshop.

The gathering, funded as part of biotech company Biogen’s STAR Initiative (science teacher support, access and resources), was designed to engage city youth workers in a series of STEAM activities that could be used, reimagined and expanded with their middle- and high-school students.

Assistant Professor Sue Cusack, director of the Lesley STEAM Learning Lab, was joined at the workshop by Assistant Director Dr. Nettrice Gaskins, Wonderlab co-founder and Executive Director Susan Rauchwerk, Associate Professor Nicole Weber, and alumni Alexander Goldowsky (B.S. ’87,  M.Ed. ‘02, a Learning Lab consultant) and Laura Kathrein (M.Ed ’17), a dancer whose “Mystic Moves” project embodies the transit of the Mystic River watershed.

“Through these experiences, we are building the capacity of CYP staff to engage Cambridge youth in STEAM activities in ways that make learning meaningful and maximize the use of outdoor spaces at community centers across the city of Cambridge,” Cusack says.

The Lesley contingent convened and collaborated with the Cambridge Youth Programs’ staff on the lush, bright and colorful grounds of the Frisoli Youth Center on Cambridge’s Willow Street. They led participants in a group exercise to get them moving as if they were water molecules — standing still to mimic ice, then milling about, with gradually increasing energy, to become liquid water, and then rapidly converting to gas in an imitation of water vapor.

The overarching frame of this event was an alternative reality game called Replenish. Launching with a 3-minute video called “Stacy and the Magic Water Bottle” created by Early Childhood Education student Tess Johnson, the groups set off in search of the missing magic water bottle as they cycled through a handful of activity stations scattered about the grounds, using food coloring and dish soap to create bubble art, fashioning bubble wands out of ordinary household objects or materials found in nature, spraying their names in water on concrete, mapping heat islands with infrared thermometers and more.

“You can call it an engineering challenge,” said Weber, staffing the station where participants created bubble wands out of kitchen implements, shoelaces, twigs and all manner of disparate objects in a test of do-it-yourself ingenuity. “It also helps bring your ‘play muscles’ back.”

One of the youth counselors, Medjine Lucien, believes such activities will inspire young people, especially after such a prolonged period of COVID-safety-prompted remote learning. And, of course, it keeps them entertained.

In the words of one youth worker, “If I had done this as a kid I would have been more interested in science!”