Virtual STEM activities with The Citizen Science Lab

By Emily Papa September 1, 2020

Last year, on the first day of school, my little girl decided that she might want to be a scientist when she grows up. Over the course of the year, we have done countless exploratory activities and science experiments for her to satisfy her desire. She was signed up for the after school science programs and loves creating her own experiments at home (which mom isn’t ALWAYS thrilled about but hey).

Then COVID-19 happened, school ended, and life as we know it has been different.

 Starting my new job with Macaroni Kid, I was introduced to The Citizen’s Science Lab. Having never been there but seeing what they were, I knew that my aspiring scientist would LOVE to take a class but I also knew that “classes” during COVID-19 summer were not really a thing.

But they were... and still are!!!

If you aren’t familiar with The Citizen Science Lab, let me give you the low-down. The Citizen Science Lab makes my daughter think she is actually part of the cast in Project Mc². They are a non-profit, hands on laboratory offering STEM experiences to children of all ages through a variety of methods- lab days, field trips, lab memberships, birthday parties and more. The Citizen Science Lab has a brand-new location in the South Hills, right behind South Hills Village Mall and their original location in the Hill District

When the Pandemic hit, The Citizen Science Lab got really creative and adaptive, finding a solution to still provide STEM opportunities to the community while still delivering their personal hands on touch. For individuals, they created Remote Learning Programs; and for groups, since they couldn’t really bring kids in for a field trip, they decided to turn their programming virtual and bring the field trip to the kids! With an extensive 30-page Course Catalog, there is enough STEM content to satisfy the interests of all. 

Each Experimental Subject offers a range of options based on interest; with varying age appropriateness, lengths of course, times to complete and location (CSL only or anywhere). Some experiments are edible and others are art that you can keep! Once you pick your experiment, The Citizen Science Lab will custom create a kit for you. Each kit contains enough supplies for each child to have their own and not have to share with someone else. That way, everyone has a chance at hands on learning from start to finish. Kit’s can be picked up or shipped out for contactless delivery. You will also be given a Zoom link where you will be provided with an instructor to educate you on your topic and guide you through hands on participation.

Once I learned about the Citizen Science Lab and their offerings, I knew that my daughter would want to get involved. Since it was the summer of 2020 and some neighborhood kids were social distancing and some quarantining, I worked with the Vice President and Site Manager Carianne Floss to create the perfect “field trip” that was able to include all of them. With over 100 experiments to choose from, I needed help narrowing it down. I told her the general range was 6-10 but with one crazy-smart 5-year-old, and she helped me pick out a program that was the most comprehensive for them. Letting my daughter make the final decision from the choices Carianne suggested,  we decided on two edible ones- Oreo Phases of the Moon and Marshmallow Constellations. 

Um, can mom get in on this one???

As coordinator of this “field trip,” the kits were all delivered to me and I distributed them to the participating neighbors and provided them with the zoom link. On the morning of our class, 12 kids worked in pods at 4 different houses but all got to engage and “work together” on Zoom. 

When the Citizen Science Lab Instructor arrived she did a quick intro and walked the kids through muting and unmuting themselves and provided an overview of what they would be doing and what was in the contents of their kits. 

The class started with an educational component of the phases of the moon and then worked with them all to recreate the phases with Oreos!

They were so excited about playing with their food and eating their Oreo cream that I don’t even think they realize they were learning, yet they were totally getting it!!! Once they finally realized what they had accomplished, they were so proud!

Well, not all of them… My 4-year-old was only interested in stealing the marshmallows from the next activity, thinking that we couldn’t see him over there… ➑

After they completed their lunar phases, they were given a quick break to eat their moons and socialize with their friends on the Zoom chat. We were a half an hour into virtual learning and I didn’t hear a single complaint!

Once we resumed, the kids learned about constellations, identified their own zodiac constellation and then got to recreate them with marshmallows and toothpicks! 

There was some intense concentration going on here followed with a proud show and tell!

The entire experience with the kids took about an hour and as you can see my pod of two sat engaged through the whole thing! I loved hearing the excitement from all the kids over Zoom and when it was over they all told me how much they enjoyed it. These kits and the virtual experience was super educational yet disguised as fun. #momwinallday

If you are looking for a fun and COVID-19 supportive STEM program, we highly recommend that you explore The Citizen Science Lab! Be sure to share your experiment photos with us on social media using the hashtags #macaronikid #macaronikidsouthhills #MKSouthHills and tag us @MKSouthHills (on FB), @MacaroniKidSouthHills (on IG), or @PGHMacaroniMama (on Twitter)!

Macaroni Kid would like to thank The Citizen Science Lab for making this experience possible.


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