(IAP’18 FELLOW) Anjuli Jain Figueroa, G

Anjuli will be working in San Jose, Costa Rica, on a Project entitled “Adventures in Science with Carretica Cuentera.” She will collaborate with Carretica Cuentera, an NGO dedicated to fostering a love of learning through the power of story-telling. The project is intended to create innovative curriculum in children’s education by developing educational materials and piloting a science camp to expose young children from underserved areas to STEM and science problem solving. The goal of the project is to foster a spirit of inquiry and use inexpensive resources to show that anyone can conduct science without the need of a full-stocked lab. The material will become part of Carretica Cuentera’s tools to educate children and keep them excited with science.


Storytelling and Science

Pre departure

About me
First, a brief introduction: My name is Anjuli. I’m a grad student at MIT. I grew up in Costa Rica (the rugged, rain-forested Central American country) where I returned for this project. I have travelled widely and lived in several places including Michigan, New York, Boston, D.C and Madrid. My academic interests are in environmental engineering, particularly the sustainable use of our natural resources (i.e. water).  When I’m not thinking about these things, I spend my time reading, watching movies, playing soccer, and in the winter, wondering why I left sunny Costa Rica.

Leaving the cold and going to Costa Rica

Leaving the cold and going to Costa Rica

About the Project
During this IAP trip, I had the opportunity to return to Costa Rica for a public service project. The community where we will implement the project is in Patarra, Desamparados. On social indicators, this community performs below average. A quarter of homes in desamparados are single parent homes. A quarter of the population is under the age of 15. Only 50% of homes have access to a computer. Although nearly all students ages 7-12 attend school, nearly 50% of the students are 1 year behind their school grade level. The aim of the project is to help foster a love of learning in young children by exposing them to a fun science curriculum.

I will be working with Carretica Cuentera (CC), an NGO that has gained national attention for its unique model of fomenting reading through story-telling. The core of CCs methodology is to create a natural love for learning through stories. I think that by adding a scientific component we help feed this. We will develop a combined story-telling/science curriculum and run a pilot camp on Jan 11-14 at Parque la Libertad, a space devoted to social inclusion funded by the Ministry of Culture and Youth. The goal is to create a curriculum that will excite kids about STEM.

Generating Ideas

Lesson 1 – Flirt with your ideas, but don’t fall in love.
It’s surprising how much thought can go into planning good learning activities.  A lot has changed already from the storyline and messages to the types of activities.

The first lesson I learned from the project is not to fall in love with my ideas. For example, in the first draft, the main character I envisioned was a cute sea turtle. Turtles are an important part of the “tico” culture and would allow for an engineering activity where the kids have to help a model turtle cross a treacherous beach and get to the safety of the sea. Then the kids could plot where they thought the turtles travel to based on ocean currents and ocean temperatures. (The destination of turtles was a scientific mystery and was illuminated only recently). Everything seemed to fit and I was eager to stop exploring and start “doing.”

Thus, I was somewhat shocked when my community partner suggested that the main character should be his tried and tested alligator, Lagarto Pocho. I was resistant to the idea: alligators don’t live in the ocean, they don’t have the same tie to costa rican culture, they don’t travel on ocean currents. I had fallen in love with my own idea and lost objectivity; I had developed a storyline that I liked and was so committed to it, that it was difficult to be creative and attack the problem from different angle. When I heard the expert community partner advice, I resisted. It took me some time to sort out my hesitation and accept the expert advice. After all, CC had worked hard and spent years creating solid characters that kids liked and would readily accept. Sometimes, it is difficult but necessary to let go of your good ideas to make room for better ones. Falling in love with an idea displays passion, but being able to let it go, displays growth.

Lagarto Pocho

Main Character in our story: Lagarto Pocho

My partnership and cooperation with CC was iterative and several ideas, experiments were discussed, attempted, and scraped even before we began the camp. In fact, major part of the project was just developing a good curriculum (all though we didn’t yet know what “ good” meant). Here’s a short list of some scraped ideas: sea turtles, build your own spectrometer, coral reef card game, alkazetzer rockets, greenhouse gas effect demo, elephant toothpaste demo, invisible ink demo, coffee filter chromatography.

Through much of the preparation, I started identifying some characteristics of a “good” curriculum:

  • Identify a main and simple “takeaway.” If the kids were to leave with one message, what would it be? Science makes the invisible, visible
  • Experiments must be easy to build with simple and reusable materials.
  • Demos must line up with the story line and have a good story arc.
  • Everything should support our main takeaway.
Some ideas had to be scrapped, others improved and simplified. We kept the artificial lung but had to figure out how to simplify construction for kids (cups instead of bottles, play dough instead of tape). We scrapped the cardboard box spectrometer.

Some ideas had to be scrapped, others improved and simplified. We kept the artificial lung but had to figure out how to simplify construction for kids (cups instead of bottles, play dough instead of tape). We scrapped the cardboard box spectrometer. 

Meeting the community partner (Dec 22, 2018) 

Today I met with Alberto Barrantes, the Director of CC. We discussed our ideas and made a draft of the activities, pending items and workshop/camp timelines. Below is the link to preview our thought process with the scraped ideas taken out and the new parts added in red. I told Alberto all my ideas with the hope he would select a few but he liked them all, so I think we may have too much content, but it’s easier to cut.

Curriculum Revised

Alberto and Anjuli hold up PKG shirts. You can see the yellow LED light on the snap circuit on the table as we discuss the curriculum and workshop.

Alberto and Anjuli hold up PKG shirts. You can see the yellow LED light on the snap circuit on the table as we discuss the curriculum and workshop.

Prepping experiments

Prepping experiments

Prepping experiments

Prepping experiments

Pre camp jitters (Jan 8 2018)

Tomorrow is the first day of “Aventuras de la Ciencia con Carretica Cuentera” and we’ve tried to plan it to the T. We were able to push back the start time to have an extra hour for prep, all the materials are ready and loaded, we have the snack bags ready for the kids, but still I’m nervous. I think i may have tried to pack too many activities into one day but it is easier to cut activities than to make them up on the fly. I’ve left the 2nd day more open so I can adjust the level and number of activities based on the 1st day experience. Here we go.

Prepping Materials

Prepping Materials

Snacks for 1st day of camp

Snacks for 1st day of camp

Snap Circuit Materials

Snap Circuit Materials

Understanding Air Lego Kit (https://edgerton.mit.edu/k-12/teacher-resources/k-12-curriculum/atoms-molecules/understanding-air)

Understanding Air Lego Kit (https://edgerton.mit.edu/k-12/teacher-resources/k-12-curriculum/atoms-molecules/understanding-air)


Tuesday Jan 9, 2018 – Day 1 Impressions

The first day of the camp was a great success. It seemed the students enjoyed the time and it was evident they were quite captured by the scientific experiments. The intermixing of stories and science really brought to life the issues: in this case, the main character, Pocho, a lazy aligator that is having trouble breathing, elicits the help of our young scientists to discover what is causing his breathing problems. First, through a series of demos, we investigated 3 properties of air: 1. it has mass, 2. it ocupies space and 3. it exerts pressure. The demos were a great way for the kids to visually see the activities. We started each demo with a question (e.g. Does air have mass/weight?). Each demo allowed me to reiterate the key point that I wanted kids to have: that one of the objectives scientists have is to make invisible things visible. (e.g. with a balance, filled balloon and empty balloon we could see that air does indeed have mass.)

Engaging the kids with demos. Notice the variety of facial expressions from glee, surprise, wonder and thought.

Engaging the kids with demos. Notice the variety of facial expressions from glee, surprise, wonder and thought.

Kids engaging with science - wearing enormous lab coats because: Safety first!

Kids engaging with science – wearing enormous lab coats because: Safety first!

When we first started, only half the group came on time. So for the first 10 students, we discussed “what is science” and had them draw their impressions. This was quite fun to see – many drew Erlenmeyer flasks, potions and robots. I also came to realize the importance of representation. In drawing the scientists, many of the kids drew themselves (or named the character after themselves), which was encouraging to see.  I also noticed one child coloring the person in brown with my purple shirt to look like me (as she colored, she stared directly at me) – this was interesting to me because it really brought out the meaning and reason for needing representation. When kids see, they can really envision it.

Kids draw "what is science"

Kids draw “what is science”



We were quite lucky to have had 6 volunteers participate and lend a hand. This was incredibly useful as we split the 24 kids into 4 groups, which allowed us to have an adult present at each table for kids to get support and not get too rowdy.

Anjuli and volunteer Manuel help a group of 7 kids work with the lego kits.

Anjuli and volunteer Manuel help a group of 7 kids work with the lego kits.

We used the air lego kits in our groups to make a model of air and learn about combustion. The kids enjoyed the legos for a while, but perhaps we allocated too much time to this because towards the end they were getting bored. It was also a slightly difficult activity for the younger kids (6-8 y/o) because it requires one to abstract and think beyond what one can see. The rearranging of the legos hopefully would stick with the kids but some of the volunteers made a mistake in explaining, which I think may have confused the kids a bit. I re-ran the activity to correct the volunteers’ mistakes, which probably lead to spending too much time on it. For next time, it will be useful to explain the activity to the volunteers with a little more guidance. Through the kits I realized kids are kinetic learners so I should add an action for each part of the combustion model. Then we created artificial lungs. The kids really enjoyed this. We did it in partners but I believe for next time we should do it individually so each kid can take one home.

Kids build artificial lung model, some practice CPR

Kids build artificial lung model, some practice CPR

We finally finished with the question cards / quizlets but I think this may be too difficult for the kids. I was quite impressed that they remained engaged for the duration of the 4 hours. Towards the end we could sense they were tired as were the volunteers and myself. Another point of improvement is to have an extra break. We had one snack time but I think 2 might be bettter.

In terms of improvement, I think I need to slow down a bit and fit less into the 4 hours and add one more break. Tomorrow we will see if the kids retained some of the subject matter, but again the purpose is to excite them about science and based on their attention and captivity, I think today was a success. At the end we were a bit rushed with the circuits and I think this activity is too difficult for the age range so I may scrap it from the 2nd round.

At the end of the day, I learned that the 10 students that came in later are from quite difficult backgrounds. The directors of the center who tend to hold many activities at the park were quite surprised by how captured they were by the activity. These students tend to be disruptive and non-participative but they opened up a bit and seemed to enjoy the camp.

Small aside, the park was a really great location to hold the activity, it was a great space with small group tables large demo tables, story telling area, green space and little play set.


Park was a great location with green space, tables and ample room to move

Park was a great location with green space, tables and ample room to move

I’m still struggling with really figuring out how to measure the impact that this activity may have. Alberto from CC and I discussed a “before/after” set of questions for the kids, but these are more related to the subject matter. My own personal hope is that for CC, this becomes an additional part of the curriculum and they can find someone to run the set of experiments. My goal will be to outline them in detail so that they can be easily run by any volunteer.

Wed Jan 10 2018, Day 2 – Water and pH

After the successful Day 1 (Air) activities, I was quite pumped for the second day. I had to spend quite sometime figuring out the logistics of running some of the experiments. Since the kids are quite young, I had to make sure there was minimum opportunities for spills and mixing and reiterate that nothing in science should be eaten. The main experiment for the day involved pH indicators of different chemicals (all non toxic – orange juice, soap, etc.) I planned it out and all though it would take more time and a bit more effort from volunteers, seeing it in action worked really well. We assigned each kid on the table a number and assured them they would each get a turn. Two volunteers served as runners and would bring the chemicals from my table to the kids’ table. Once the table had seen the reaction and determined as a team whether they thought the chemical was a base or an acid, the runner would return the chemical to my table and take the next one. I was impressed by the kids’ attention even during their partners’ turn. I think perhaps the color change reaction is quite captivating.

Student with dropper doing pH test

Student with dropper doing pH test


I was also impressed at the beginning of the day by the amount that the students retained form the first day. I credit this to the well designed LEGO game. As I prepared, I left the lego kits on the table so the kids could play some more. I was surprised when some kids built the model for propane from memory. That gave me the idea to try to quiz them without the LEGO cards. The kids did incredibly well. This led to a review of the previous day which I think will cement some of the concepts.

Continuing with the methodology of interlacing the story with the science, Alblerto and I reviewed what we had discovered about Pocho the alligator: he was coughing and having trouble breathing because of the pollution caused by carbon particles left in the air from incomplete combustion. We learned that his lungs needed clear pathways, good air, and space to expand but were being restricted. The pollution was being caused by factories near his village of Naranja.

In the 2nd day Pocho takes a trip to find alternate places away from the factory. On his journey through the river and ocean he discovers that the rivers are also being polluted. In this activity, as the story progresses, we had a water bucket with a model (sponge) representing Pocho in the river and during particular times of the journey the kids pollute the water (for example when Pocho passes a fertilizer plant, or a kid throwing wrappers on the ground, or an industrial plant illegally dumping). At the end, the kids are tasked with trying to clean the water and they see how difficult it is. Each kid wanted a turn to clean and they really enjoyed it. To improve this, I might bring more items for the kids to use to try to clean the water, some even to trick them like magnets.


Pocho, represented by a sponge alligator, journey's down a dirty river. The kids try to clean the polluted water and realize it’s quite difficult to clean after it’s been polluted.

Pocho, represented by a sponge alligator, journey’s down a dirty river. The kids try to clean the polluted water and realize it’s quite difficult to clean after it’s been polluted.

After the kids had visually seen the water pollution, we asked the question of whether all pollution is visible. This continued our theme about science being the ability to make what’s invisible visible (this was how we introduced the properties of air in day 1). This led to a discussion of pH as an invisible property that we can make visible with an indicator that helps us determine the quality of the water. The kids really liked the color changes. The concept of the pH was a bit difficult for them to grasp, particularly since the scale is reversed (low numbers mean lots of free hydrogen), but the lego mat for pH helped and simply discussing the distinction between bases and acids and how the indicator can separate these for us was useful. We discussed how the oceans are becoming more acidic due to the CO2 and showed a demo of chalk in vinegar as a representation of corals. This was a little hard to see, but the kids understood that acidic oceans are not so good for the fishes or for Pocho.

Talking about pH. Notice the facial expressions and the healthy skepticism

Talking about pH. Notice the facial expressions and the healthy skepticism


Finally at the end, my dad gave us a great idea that tied everything together. The link we had carried from the first day to the second was the production of carbon dioxide during combustion. The remaining carbon and soot from incomplete combustion was bad for Pocho’s lungs but excess CO2 was also bad for his habitat as the pH of the oceans was decreasing (becoming more acidic) because of the CO2. My dad’s idea was to reintroduce the circuits, which had not gone so well in day 1 explaining why we use combustion in the first place. We discussed that we burn fossil fuels (like propane) to create electricity to light up our houses and run fans. We showed all this with the snap circuits. Then we discussed how we could produce the same electricity with solar panels and wind turbines and showed this on the snap circuit as well. This was a really nice tie and link for the whole series and made it a wonderful closure.

My dad gave me a great idea to reintroduce the circuit to explore energy use through combustion vs. energy use through renewables (i.e solar) and helped tie the story arc together.

My dad gave me a great idea to reintroduce the circuit to explore energy use through combustion vs. energy use through renewables (i.e solar) and helped tie the story arc together.

To close, we did a trivia with the kids to check their understanding. The last few questions were open ended and asked them to write the ending of Pocho’s story and suggest ideas for how we can protect our air and water. Day 2 seemed to go even better than Day 1. The only regret I have is that I forgot to bring the egg in the bottle from Day 1. All the kids asked about it since we were going to try to get the egg out. In leaving in the morning, I forgot. Oh well.

We got a lot of good comments from the people at Parque Libertad who showed interest in running something like this camp again. This to me would be a measure of success. I believe anyone could really facilitate this since the difficult part of coming up with the curriculum has been done. I requested a short meeting with the director to discuss this idea and perhaps serve as a way to keep the link between CC, PL and PKG.

Th Jan 11, Day 3 (repeat of Day 1)

Today we ran the camp again trying to improve it based on what we had done on day 1. However, it did not go as smoothly as I hoped. We had fewer kids this round (about 16) but we also had fewer volunteers. Also, a few of the kids in the group had special needs (autism, adhd, etc.) which made it more difficult and had been unplanned. We started off with too little time to set up so we were scrambling as the kids arrived. In the scramble, somebody had left match lit that made a newspaper catch fire. It was small and quickly controlled, but not the start I wanted for the day. Nonetheless, the small fire really grasped all the kids attention, some exclaiming in glee “fire!”

The beginning (after the fire) was okay as we started with the story of Pocho. We played the name game as an icebreaker and moved to the properties of air. The demos with the properties of air really capture the students attention. It’s difficult to keep the kids 1 ft away from the demo table, they want to be close and in the “thick of it” often attempting to touch the experiments. I suggested maybe a rope, but my dad says kids are like monkeys and they would go under and over it so I just resigned myself to having to ask every couple of minutes for the kids to take 3 steps back. With the intent of training some of the staff, I tried to have an assistant from the PL conduct the experiments. I think I may have to train them individually without the kids around. I get the sense that they believe these experiments can only be conducted by a scientist and engineer. I would really like to convince them otherwise, that anybody can do this.

Egg in a bottle demo discussing air pressure

Egg in a bottle demo discussing air pressure

Ice breaker name game

Ice breaker name game

Today we had several disruptions that made the day more difficult. I got the meeting with the director of the PL to propose a continuation/repetition of the camp. (To me a repetition of the camp would be a real measure of success so that the curriculum can be used many times with new kids and modified as they see fit.) Unfortunately, the meeting time that she could give was during the middle of the camp. I arranged to have a volunteer take over for the duration of the meeting.  The other disruption was one of the students’ birthdays. Here mom wanted to bring a cake and sing to her since this is the summer holidays here this student usually does not get to have a birthday with friends in school. We agreed to give her the time/space. The cake, however, arrived about 15 min after we had had our snack break, and about 15 min after returning from the party I had to go to the meeting. Also during this time, we had some people from the newspaper come and ask about the camp. The disruptions did not leave enough space to complete a task between them, however, they were all valid and useful so we went with the flow. At the time of the meeting Alberto from CC and I left and we left one of the volunteers in charge.

The meeting went really well but lasted a little longer than I expected. The staff was incredibly receptive to the idea and very interested in the PKG center and how to become a named foundation were other MIT students could come do projects. I told them I would enquire and get back to them.

Upon returning to the classroom, I realized that not just anyone can facilitate the class. The volunteer I had left in charge was great with the subject matter, but had a difficult time keeping the kids under control (the sugar rush the kids had from the birthday cake and coke probably didn’t help). Maybe the kids are like puppies, they smelled the volunteer’s fear and pounced. My dad and another volunteer stepped in to help and gave the kids a chance to try the experiments themselves. They then had the kids draw what they thought was science.

When I returned to the class i quized the kids on the subject matter (combustion) but I sensed some confusion. I tried to regain control and review again, but it was a lot harder to keep them focused. I guess I should be glad nothing was on fire, after all, that’s how we had started the day. Slowly we refocused but I was running out of time. I think the lesson on incomplete combustion was not clear but I think part of this may stem from some of the volunteers not fully grasping the activity. I think as an improvement, I may want to run it with volunteers only. The LEGO kit is well designed and has a lot of thought behind it, but it must be conducted in a particular way to really enable the kid to discover, if it’s done incorrectly (i.e. wrong order, more pieces used for a reaction etc.) it can loose the gist/thought behind it. I have to consider this in my written explanation.

We rushed quickly through building a model of the lung which the kids enjoyed. I had planned to have each kid make their own, but because of the rush, I had to have them do it in partners. By this point, I was feeling rushed and a bit dissatisfied with the level of understanding of the last few activities. I think I’ll have to review again tomorrow morning. At least I know they grasped the properties of air since they each had a chance to do those experiments themselves. I’m also quite happy that the newspaper had interest in our project and that the director of the park and CC have seen value in this type of camp.

I hope to make tomorrow a better day. I’ll do all the prep in the morning and hopefully arrive early at the park.

Fri Jan 12, Day 4 ( repeat of Day 2)

Friday was the last day for the camp. It went really well. We were discussing water pollution and ocean acidification. The tying link is the CO2 which we discussed was produced during combustion. My hope for the day was to have a more focused day than the previous one. Surprisingly, even though the group was smaller than the first (~17 students instead of 24) it was more difficult to keep this one focused. I think in part because a few of the kids with special needs required more attention and would cause a bit more distraction. Nonetheless, i was happy with the outcome. We did the pH experiments much faster than the first time, i think perhaps because I had experience and also the kids did not use as much indicator as the first group. Also the smaller groups sped up the activity. This allowed us enough time to run the oil spill activity which I had planned for but did not have enough time to do with the first group.

Adventures in Science - review of first day

Adventures in Science – review of first day

The oil spill activity is messy. Since I had not planned on doing it because last time we ran out of time, I did not pull out the materials and prep the kits at the beginning of the class. Luckily I had all the materials available, but I had to talk a bit about density while the volunteers and I prepped the kits. Discussing density with oil and water gave another example of making what’s invisible visible. The oil/water separation is clear from the side, but if you look at it from the top, the oil takes on the color of the bottom substance. I think this was neat for the kids to see. In the oil spill activity, the kids each have a tin with a stone island, water and oil. On the island they have a feather, representative of a bird, whom they have to protect. I think the kids enjoyed the engineering aspect of trying to protect the bird. For future improvement, I think we can have a better storyline that links Pocho to the island, oil spill and bird. Since this activity was somewhat improvised (not the same as during the 1st camp) we had not practiced the storyline.


Kids working with the oil spill activity. It was quite timely given the East China Sea Oil spill the next day (http://www.businessinsider.com/sanchi-oil-spill-china-images-2018-1)

Kids working with the oil spill activity. It was quite timely given the East China Sea Oil spill the next day (http://www.businessinsider.com/sanchi-oil-spill-china-images-2018-1)

We did a review of all the material and I was quite impressed with the kids. I asked a somewhat more advanced question about what happens when you mix a strong acid (like vinegar) and a strong base (like bicorbonate) and was really impressed that most kids intuitively expected (or guessed correctly) that they would neutralize each other.

Learning about solar power with small solar panels and snap circuit parts

Learning about solar power with small solar panels and snap circuit parts

We ended the day about 30 min early. I think 4 hours is a bit long, we can really cut down on the time, especially once we have practiced the experiments in the first session. We gave the kids play time at the end, but for improvement, we could build this break into our 4 hours.

At the end of the class I asked the kids which experiments they enjoyed the most. A pattern emerged with a top 3: the ducky diver, the CO2 balloon and the pH color changes. It was neat to see that some relatively simple experiments really captured the students attention. I was also quite happy with how much they retained, particularly from using the LEGO’s. I had been worried about making the  experiments/science and explanations too advanced and struggled with knowing the correct level. Most people I asked for advice thought the class was too advanced for kids, but I think it worked out great. The concepts are advanced, but many grasped the gist and really came up with surprising solutions of their own accord. They mentioned throwing less trash, recycling, burning less, using less cars and factories, using renewables like solar and wind but they went beyond class items to talking about raising awareness through workshops since most of the pollution is human caused and asking the president to add some funds for protecting forests which sequester CO2, these were definitely beyond the scope of things we discussed. I think the main point, that science is exciting, starts with a question and that it makes what’s invisible visible, really stuck with the kids.

At the end of the class, PL gave me a tour of the rest of their facilities. They have an agreement with the fab lab from Veritas University. The fab lab concept originated at MIT and i’m quite familiar with it. It was neat to see they had some great tech equipment (like 3D printers, arduinos, etc.) The PL representative told me about some programs they run, including a kids in tech program. They ran it for 1.5 years, but most of the kids that signed up were boys (~90%). To try to encourage girls, they organized a girls with tech for girls only. It’s suppose to start this coming week. They mentioned they got some backlash for sponsoring a gendered program but they wanted to raise awareness that during the 1st attempt at a non-gendered one, the majority were boys and that something has to be done to balance the numbers. PL invited me to speak to the older girls, mentioning that it really helps to have a role model. Perhaps this is one of the personal lessons I have learned is how real and necessary this is from a young age. In the 2nd group, I saw once again as a kid drew me as the representation of a scientists, with the same color shirt and short hair. They drew a male volunteer as my assistant. For kids, the norm is what they see and giving them more examples to see, can really impact how they view things. I plan to go to PL on Wed. I’ll take that chance to give them the materials and written instructions for the Adventures in Science curriculum.


Sunday Jan 14

This morning I received a call early in the morning from a family friend congratulating me. I was a bit confused since I expected he wanted to talk with my father, but he said he wanted to talk to me about the news article that showed up in the national news. I had not seen the newspaper so I was clueless. The project: Aventuras de la Ciencia con Carretica Cuentera made national news. It was quite exciting to see. Despite the few misprints (like my full name, degree), it was neat to see that the project was considered worthy to share with others. (link below)

I think overall it was great, but to really count the project as a success, I hope it can be repeated, especially since the curriculum has now been vetted and tested. My plan is to outline in detail the curriculum so that PL or CC can repeat it. Although I do realize that they have to be careful with whom they choose to facilitate since it has to be someone that can command attention and keep the kids focused. I learned that not just anyone can teach, but a well designed curriculum can certainly help. CC can do the storyline and now that it’s been well integrated with fun experiments, it’s a great way to get kids excited about science and it works great for kids of a huge age range 5-12 (we had some 5 year olds join the class, even though we wanted >7 y/o). Later in the week I’ll speak to the girls in tech program, mostly to continue to encourage them towards STEM fields.


Camp activities make the national news

Camp activities make the national news

 Summary and Achievements

In retrospect

The story and camp in general had a really good complete arc: Incomplete combustion (build with lego kits) from the neighboring factory was leading to soot in the air which was causing our main character, an alligator named Pocho, to have breathing problems (build an artificial lung with cups and balloons). The alligator takes a trip through the river to find a better home and finds that the rivers are also being polluted (kids try to clean it but it’s difficult). He ends in the ocean and finds it’s becoming more acidic (red cabbage pH experiments) because of the CO2 from combustion (ocean mat). The acid damages the corals (demo with chalk). He witnesses an oil spill and asks the kids to help him protect the coast. The kids realize it’s difficult to clean up once it’s been polluted. The kids question why we use combustion in the first place since it leads to air and water problems. They find out we use combustion to turn a turbine to generate electricity. Using the snap circuits we show that renewables like wind power and solar power can also generate electricity.

We asked the kids to write an ending to the story we started. We had some really fun endings, some suggesting that the main character call the President to demand that resources be set aside for more trees and more renewable energy, some have the main character giving workshops and heading campaigns to prevent pollution. It was great fun and all the experiments tied with the story line and supported our main point: there are many things we can’t see (i.e. air, pH), and yet through science, we can detect their properties – science makes the invisible, visible.

Community voice

To really strengthen the assessment of the project, I would like to include the voice of Alberto Barrantes, the director of Carretica Cuentera and my community partner, who addressed the following questions:

1 – Was the project fruitful? How can It be improved?

Each of the goals that we set out to reach were successfully fulfilled. I could summarize as the main achievement of this project the ability to awaken in children a constant interest in scientific issues (air composition, combustion, acidification, climate change) that was reflected in the active participation of children, in their commitment to attend punctually to each one of the sessions and in the thematic comprehension that was verified with several questions (trivia), at the end of each one of the workshops. The workshop showed that the methodology of combining stories with scientific subjects gives very positive results among children and allows them to appropriate everyday problems to propose new solutions.

2 – What impact do you think the project has had? Who was the most affected by the project?

The project, in its entirety, had a very positive impact on the children, who from the beginning were our target audience and main beneficiaries of the project. Within the impact, I would like to point out that they were motivated through games, stories, questions and scientific experiments to have a real approach to Science and to feel a part of the solution-makers for issues that concern society as a whole, as is the case of climate change.  Empowering children through playful and educational spaces becomes a very useful tool, which is in line with the objectives, mission and vision of the team at Carretica Cuentera. This was also portrayed in the report published in the newspaper La Nación, on Sunday, January 14, thanks to the coordination of Carretica with the press.

3 – What have you learned? What did the project teach you about the community / people with whom we work?

From my experience in each of Carretica’s workshops, I can affirm that every child leaves you with a lesson. His imagination, his innocence and his curiosity are engines of change and hope for society. In this workshop with Anjuli, I was filled with hope to see how children, through stories and experiments, were always interested in proposing solutions to climate change. I am convinced that if we start to make changes in those who are in school today, we will have better results as a society in the future.

4 – Did the project change the way you think about the world? about the community? about MIT?

The ability to generate this alliance with an MIT PhD student such as Anjuli Jain, through the support of the PKG Center, confirms my conviction that when there is a real commitment, dedication and responsibility, there is no obstacle nor distances that impede the good results. And that good alliances, regardless of geographical separation, positively impact populations that otherwise would not have access to this type of workshops or opportunities. The work carried out in “Adventures of Science with Carretica Cuentera” keeps alive my hope that many professionals exist with interested in sharing knowledge in a responsible and active way with the smallest kids and that when sincere efforts are joined, it generates very positive results to improve our environment.


Kids complete the camp

Kids complete the camp

Ending notes and Thank You’s

Note: The photos included here come from 3 sources: Carretica Cuentera’s facebook page, Parque la Libertad’s flicker account and La Nacion photographer, Mayela López. 

The success of this project was due to the help from many parties and it would be remiss not to include a brief thank you.

TO OEOP: The experience really reinforced in me the importance of representation and I wanted to thank you again for the work you do in reaching out to bring underrepresented groups into STEM. Thank you again for your support and for lending me the snap circuit materials which helped us discuss renewable energy.

To the Edgerton Center: I wanted to thank you again for lending me all the lego air kit materials. This became the core of the curriculum allowing for the kids to explore abstract concepts like combustion through the building-block toys.

To my family: In planning these activities I had great help from my family who rolled up their sleeves, helped build experiments, procured materials, and were my mock students. A special thanks to my father who helped in every stage and suggested many ideas for improvement.

My dad helping me prepare

My dad helping me prepare

To Parque la libertad: I hope the curriculum serves you well in the future and that you have success in your continued mission of social inclusion. Thanks for coordinating all the volunteer help, which became invaluable to the smooth running of the class time.

To Carretica Cuentra: Your insights, support, local knowledge and constant positivity made this project successful. I hope you are able to include these scientific concepts into your curriculum as you travel the country and world, bringing along the methodology of storytelling and learning.

Alberto Barrantes from CC and Anjuli Jain Figueroa from MIT

Alberto Barrantes from Carretica Cuentera and Anjuli Jain Figueroa from MIT

To the PKG center: This project would not have been possible without your support. Thanks!

PKG Support

PKG Staff and Anjuli









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