Participating as an Activity Lead

What is Cascades Science Squad?

Cascades Science Squad is a program sponsored by Cascades Science Center Foundation, a 501(C)3 based in Washington.  The purpose of the Cascades Science Squad is to inspire middle-school youth to reach their full potential in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) by providing them with access to fun hands on activities, knowledgeable activity leads and a supportive out-of-school informal environment that encourages their creativity.   The program enables the STEM professionals to share their knowledge with the community, develop their teaching and mentoring skills and better understand the educational issues facing youth.

Why is this program as out-of-school program?

The out-of-school programs are not limited by the K-12 curricula, freeing up the activity leads to use hands-on, immersive, free-format activities that can be responsive to student interests.  The focus of Cascades Science Squad is to use real-world examples to teach science behind these facets, for example, kitchen chemistry, physics of sports and engineering behind household gadgets.  The kids get exposure to a diverse array of working scientists and engineers to capture student’s interest and to open their minds to many attractive careers.

Why should I join Cascades Science Squad?

We are a non-profit organization with a mission to inspire youth to get excited about science, technology, engineering and mathematics.   In addition to promoting youth science engagement and skills developments, activity leads get an opportunity to apply their talents as science instructors and providers of informal science education.   Activity Leads in past have reported about our events reinvigorating their excitement about STEM.   They enjoyed showing the kids all of the cool applications that science has in everyday life.  Ultimately, it is about helping others and giving back to the community.

What are my responsibilities as an activity lead?

Activity Leads lead or co-lead small group of 5-10 middle school kids in weekly/bi-weekly/monthly hands-on lab activities encouraging scientific thinking, creativity, problem solving and safety.   The primary requirement is to have high energy and passion for learning and teaching science.  Dynamic, talented and committed activity leads are at the core of the success of Cascades Science Squad.

How much time do I need to contribute?

Cascades Science Squad offers two types of programs:

1)      Weekly/Bi-Weekly recurring Science Fun Days from 12:30 – 3:30 PM

2)      Once-a-quarter Science Bingo from 11:30 – 3:30 PM

For recurring Science Fun Days, each activity lead can chose to volunteer for as many sessions as they like because they will work with the same set of kids for the duration of a period.  The time commitment is 1 hour of actual time working with the kids and another 1-2 hours doing the curriculum practice.  Activity Lead has an option of providing their own activity curriculum or use one of the activity curriculums provided by the foundation.

For Science Bingo, each activity lead is expected to attend 1 hour orientation followed by leading activities with the kids for 3 hours.

What qualifications do I need?

Activity Leads can be high school students with interest in STEM, college/university students with training in science or engineering disciplines, professionals who work in STEM fields and scientists/teachers who like to share their passion with the kids.  The only qualification required is to have passion for any area in STEM and interest in working with kids aged 8 – 12 years old.

I am interested in becoming an activity lead, but I have never worked with kids.  Is there training?

Absolutely! We can pair you up with a senior activity lead for your initial activities so that you can easily transition into the role.

How do I apply?

The first step is to fill out an online application.  The Activity Lead Coordinator will then contact you via email after you apply.  Volunteer candidates are asked to submit the Washington State Patrol Criminal History Check, attend an orientation and observe a class.   At the orientation applicants learn about curriculum and volunteer expectations.  Activity Lead Coordinator will then work with you to schedule your first activity session.

What do past activity leads have to say about this program?

As we do our Science Squad events, we have been gathering feedback from the volunteer activity leads about their experience with the organization and helping the kids. Here is what some of our activity leads have shared with us:

“My husband and I recently had the chance to lead an activity making slime with the kids at a Science Squad event. We loved every minute of it – Making slime is a blast no matter the circumstances, but as adults with a real passion for science (sparked by caring and enthusiastic teachers from our own youth) we felt compelled to share that passion with the next generation, and Cascades Science Foundation gave us the perfect opportunity to do just that. The Cascades community was warm and inviting, and the kids’ expressions as they held their slime were such a joy to see. This was the perfect volunteer opportunity for our busy lives. ” – Elisabeth Heftel

“At Cascade Science Center Foundation events, you are presented with an opportunity to work with students on an almost individual basis. Over half (57%) of STEM college students state a teacher or class sparked their interest in the STEM field; individual instruction from a passionate instructor provides another opportunity for inspiration. The variety of STEM activities available provides multiple opportunities for students to find their niche.  Running a Teaching Kids Programming (TKP) station: My favorite part of the TKP curriculum is having students dive into coding. There isn’t a lecture preparing the students what to do…nor provide them an opportunity to be distracted. :) Depending on the age and prior exposure to using a computer, many students are very unsure about their ability to use a computer, let alone write code. The recipies allow the students to break the code up into a line-by-line activity, and testing at each step provides a constant feedback loop. Just wait for the first kid to exclaim about geting the turtle to appear. And then to move! Many times in STEM education, the largest challenge is helping students gain confidence in their capability to do the task at hand. Working with students on an almost one-on-one basis allows you to monitor and appropriately take action on unnecessary low confidence or self-criticism. Their pride at the end of the activity makes the time spent so so so worth it.” – Ashley Myers

“I think my favorite part was the ongoing attempt to connect as many LEDs as possible onto the solar panels, and it was cool to see teams of kids who didn’t know each other work to do it.” – Sara Beckwith

“I knew we were making a real difference when I saw the children actually get excited about the experiments we were doing.” – Malcolm Lalkaka

“As part of the Kinect activity to program the Kinect track the position of your joints, we left the camera on and showed skeletal tracking of visitors of the booth as they came by.  Lots of people of all ages and body sizes came and tried out different motions, which was a source of great entertainment.  However the funniest thing I saw that made me laugh out loud was a 9 year old boy on his tiptoes, leaning his head as high as it could go, like he was trying to eat something but not getting close enough, then jumping up to get higher, but never quite making it.  Then I looked at the monitor.  He was trying to “eat” the dot that the Kinect skeletal tracking thought was the center of his head.  However since the Kinect was continually updating the position of the dot, it was always higher than his mouth, which was just a little too low.  He could never quite reach it!  And he wasn’t the type of kid to give up.  Another great thing about Maker fair was that when I had a problem getting the Arduino activity set up to talk to the serial port on my laptop, someone who happened to be standing nearby turned out to be an expert in Arduino and offered some tips that got me going.  With this many makers in the same place, in many cases entire families, I couldn’t help but think Cascade Science Squad was in good hands and good company!” – Eric Jarvi