_NATURE ENVIRONMENT Ecology

_Young Urban Scientists

A new project has young students in West Philadelphia participating in next-generation science activities to identify plants and animals living in their community and to provide solutions to city planners to increase the urban biodiversity in the city.

_Nancy Songer

Songer is dean of the School of Education.

Four hundred fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade students in the federally designated “Promise Zone” of West Philadelphia will have the opportunity to study local ecology with resources made possible through a three-year, $1.17 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

The project is called “Philly Scientists: Mapping Biodiversity of the Philadelphia Promise Zone.” The goal is to foster immersive science learning experiences for students who live or attend school in the Promise Zone, a federal designation given to a handful of socioeconomically disadvantaged urban communities earmarked for preferential economic development treatment. Drexel’s School of Education researchers are partnering with Philadelphia teachers and out-of-school providers to provide local students with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) learning opportunities.

The initiative builds upon previous NSF-developed mobile apps and curricular activities to design and study an immersive, mentor-guided biodiversity field experience and career awareness program.

Philadelphia youth partner with professional scientists to gain an understanding of local science and ecology within their own neighborhood.

Students are learning to identify all species of animals, birds and insects over a two-square-mile region located in Mantua, Powelton and West Philadelphia through the NSF Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) project. Scientists from the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University will guide students in the study of biodiversity and the generation of solutions to increase urban biodiversity for their schoolyard and neighborhood. The project began in September 2016 and will run through August 2019.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to have Philadelphia youth partner with professional scientists to gain an understanding of local science and apply their knowledge in important ways, including making sound recommendations to improve our neighborhood,” says Nancy Songer, dean of the School of Education. “We saw firsthand the positive impact a project like this had on children in Detroit, and we are thrilled to bring a similar opportunity to children just beyond Drexel’s campus.”

Researchers have adapted an existing mobile app to fit Philadelphia’s unique environment and the age range of participating students. This May, three teachers and 75 students served as “Urban Animal Trackers” to gather and analyze data for their solutions.