Leonisa Ardizzone, Ed.D. is passionate about inspiring the next generation of STEM Kids. The founder of Storefront Science, she has a new book out this month, Science–Not Just for Scientists! Easy Explorations for Young Children.
Some of my New York friends are big fans of your space, Storefront Science. What prompted you to start that?
I’m so pleased to hear that we had so many fans! Sadly, the space closed about a year ago as it became impossible to offer affordable programs and pay commercial rent. It was rather heartbreaking to close the space because I created it with a deep desire to bring an engaging, accessible, exploratory learning space to my underserved neighborhood of Northern Manhattan. Our classes, summer camps, birthday parties, professional development, and Early Explorer program have continued, we just use different locations. I am also happy to announce that next month I will launch a new science learning endeavor: Explore Outside Your Door…so stay tuned!
My motivation was – and continues to be – to engage students in knowing their world. I want them to be curious, creative and committed to expanding their understanding.
What are some of the unexpected challenges and joys of running such a space?
The joys are easy: smiling, engaged children; watching curiosity flourish; great conversations with parents; inspired families; real student-directed learning.
The challenges were mostly financial. In today’s financial times I can see why folks can’t invest in additional (or replacement!) science education for their kids. I think also that not everyone values STEM learning the same way I (or you, or others like us) do or they assume that kids are getting their “science” in school, so why do something outside of school? Sadly, kids are not getting enough STEM in school, so we need informal locations for this. I think anytime you create something that is enriching, quirky and altruistic and try to do it in a capitalist market, there are going to be challenges. People want good things for their kids, but they don’t always want to (or are able to) pay for them. It’s just how it goes.
I was excited to learn you have a new book for very young scientists and their parents. Tell me about it!
I wrote my book with the very specific goal of making science activities accessible to parents and teachers who:
- love science but don’t know how to adapt it for young kids, or
- are unsure of their own science knowledge and ability, or
- are actually afraid of science and don’t know how to get started.
The book is based on the Next Generation Science Standards – making it very useful – and includes foundational discussions to raise comfort level and lots of activities to try with kids of all ages.
Do you see a difference in the way young girls and young boys approach science and in your experience does that change as they get older?
I almost hate to admit it, but at Storefront Science, we had way more boys than girls enrolled in classes. I did start a Girls Science Club that was successful, but fell apart when I closed the space. However, in our classes, which are always mixed age and mixed gender, and very small, they all engage equally. I think at young ages, and in settings that are safe, small and exploratory, boys and girls both dive right in. Lots of questions, lots of “doing.” As they get older though, that’s when I see things change. If the girls are truly “hooked” on science, they don’t back down. But others will sort of fade and let boys take the lead. I had hoped things would be different today from when I started teaching 22 years ago. but we still have work to do.
What can parents due to nurture a lifelong love of science (or STEM) in their daughters?
I love this question! And my answer is actually simple: Explore. Be a big kid. Ask questions. Get dirty. Use all the STEM resources that your city (or nearby cities) have to offer. Don’t be afraid to be wrong; just try.