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GECKO is new K-8 STEM initiative

3/8/2011 —


Campus Collaborates with Local School Districts

Continuing with its commitment to the community, Penn State New Kensington has initiated a new STEM education collaboration with local school districts.

The Green Environmental Challenge for Kids Outreach (GECKO) program targets elementary and middle school students to develop their STEM skills. A key component of the K-8 initiative is to stimulate an interest in math and science that will be sustained through high school and onto college.     

STEM is the acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the four core disciplines of a statewide effort to prepare students for global competitiveness through a strategy of enhanced education and career development opportunities. STEM skills are the foundation of the region's workforce and are critical to the development of technological innovations.

GECKO is a concerted effort among K-8 students and teachers and campus undergraduates and faculty. Conducted during the academic year and administered at local schools during science class periods, the program is structured to foster an understanding of local and global ecological systems and natural resources.

For grade-school students, it is designed to enrich learning and heighten awareness of environmental issues, including conservation, ecosystems, and waste and recycling. Students will explore environmental and ecology science through hands-on demonstrations and activities.

For teachers, the program provides an activity-based teaching resource. Teachers will have the opportunity to select from five environmental demonstrations which are intended to support environmental science concepts that already exist within a school's science curriculum.

Leading the on-site demonstrations are Penn State New Kensington students who will share their educational experiences with the youngsters. Designed and presented by the students majoring in math, biology, physics, chemistry or education, the demonstrations will include exploring the chemical breakdown of waste materials and the impact of oil spills on plants, animals and humans. All content is reviewed by Penn State faculty for compliance with Pennsylvania academic standards.

"Penn State students have shown great creativity in designing environmental demonstrations that are both informative as well as engaging," said Maureen Ryan, STEM coordinator at the New Kensington campus. "The grade-school students can learn how to apply the hands-on demonstrations outside the classroom to promote a cleaner environment."

Although GECKO activities are scheduled only during each school district's academic year, students can augment their STEM learning throughout the summer with the campus' Kids in College program, a series of academic, artistic, and social camps. The STEM-based camps include a variety of topics ranging from science and rocketry to robotics and oceanography. The one-week classes are offered from June to August.

GECKO is sponsored by a grant from the Buhl Foundation, a private entity that is headquartered in Pittsburgh. Founded in 1927 and funded through the estate of Henry Buhl Jr., a retail store magnate, the foundation contributes to the sustainability and vitality of the community. Its four areas of interest are education, youth development, human services, and economic and community development. 

For more information on GECKO, contact Ryan at mar49@psu.edu via e-mail.

For more on Kids in College, contact the Office of Continuing Education at 724-334-6010.

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