Boffins share fantastic experiences at ‘magical’ Nasa camp

Published August 2, 2023
Students flash victory signs on stage at TDF MagnifiScience Centre after their talk with the media on Tuesday.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
Students flash victory signs on stage at TDF MagnifiScience Centre after their talk with the media on Tuesday.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

KARACHI: The 24 primary school students, who attended Nasa’s Space and Rocket Centre in Huntsville, Alabama in the United States last month, returned to The Dawood Foundation (TDF) MagnifiScience Centre, the place from where the entire adventure had actually begun for them, to share their interesting experiences about coming up with science projects, taking part in competitions with other schools and their visit to the US with media here on Tuesday.

The students praised the management of the MagnifiScience Centre and the US Consulate General in Karachi who had collaborated with each other to promote and expand science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education in Karachi’s 50 schools.

It was from the 50 schools that took part in a science project competition that the eventual three winning school teams of eight students each, emerged to then travel to the US.

Tracing their journey, Haiqa Mubeen of KMA Girls and Boys Secondary School said that they had teachers who trained them to select a team for coming up with a project.

24 students return to TDF MagnifiScience Centre to talk about science projects, competition in US

Haiqa’s school had come up with a very innovative project called ‘Chicken Feathers — Go Green before the Green Goes’. It was about manufacturing paper from chicken feathers.

“We thought about issues hurting our environment and thought about deforestation. Then we focused on why the trees are being cut and realised that one of the reasons it is happening is for making paper. As primary school children we understand the importance and need for paper, so we looked into ways of making paper. Our research told us about the possibility of paper being made out of chicken feathers, which no one was doing. But we did it,” said Haiqa.

Mohammad Tahir, also of KMA Girls and Boys Secondary School, shared some of their experiences at the space camp. “We learned about stars, galaxies. We were part of astronaut training activities such as moon walking, getting into the multi-axis or multi-chair trainer to experience no gravity and G-forces,” he said.

Mohammad Hadi of KMA Boys Secondary School, whose science project, the ‘Plastic-Road’ also got them into the competition winners, also spoke about how it was for them at the space camp. “It was a great experience. We were part of activities beyond our imagination and in doing so sometimes we felt like engineers, sometimes like software engineers and even astronauts,” he said.

His schoolmate Amir Hussain cut in: “We studied about various US space missions. And so engrossed were we in the lectures that even a two-hour long lecture felt like it was over in five minutes. We realise now how time flies when you are really enjoying something,” he said.

Bismah Solangi, Aqsa and Muskan of Evergreen Elementary School, whose project ‘Anti-Sleep Glasses’ to prevent vehicle accidents caused by driver fatigue also got them on the victory stand, said that they were really impressed by the way people teach in the US.

“The teachers there are so patient and encouraging,” said Bismah.

“The people there have no issues with admitting their fault and saying sorry even if they are older than you, which is nice,” said Aqsa.

Meanwhile, Muskan also said that after studying and taking part in activities at the space camp for six days there was more fun in store for them when they were taken to Walmart for shopping.

The children informed that they were not the only ones there at the space camp. There were other children from China, Taiwan, Afghanistan, Africa and the United Kingdom as well. They made friends with many of them.

Rehan of Evergreen Elementary School said that he even taught some of them Pakistani folk dances while they taught them their dances before they all danced together. They also picked up a bit of Spanish from some American kids while they learned Urdu from the Pakistani kids.

Rehan also said that they also exchanged gifts and souvenirs. “When I presented a friend from Taiwan a 100 rupees note he gave me 100 Taiwan dollars in return, and I think I made some extra money there,” he laughed.

Earlier, Christoph S. Sprung, the director of the TDF MagnifiScience Centre, said that it felt great to see their year-long STEM programme coming to an end now.

“One year ago, we started conceptualising the learning model for teachers, something so close to our hearts, with the motivation of the US Consulate. For six hours on six weekends we demonstrated to teachers of 50 different schools of Karachi that there is a better way of engaging children, especially while teaching science.

“Then in the second phase of the programme we had some 1,200 kids here from those schools working on their individual projects on the subject of sustainability. In the third phase, we had 36 teams. And then deciding on the winner brought up another difficult challenge. We thought it would be unfair to send just one school team to the space camp so we selected three schools for the prize,” he said, while thanking his team at the Dawood Foundation, the US Consulate and all who worked behind the scenes to popularise science.

Lee McManis of the US Consulate in Karachi also said that the US gives value to creative-thinking skills and the development of those skills. He also spoke of the importance of art as he did of science education. Speaking also about the US-Pakistan Green Alliance framework, he said that for the past two decades the US had partnered with Pakistan to pursue energy transformation through green technology to meet the climate, energy, water, and economic needs of the present and future. He said that the young students, who took part in the science projects competitions here, were also helping a lot in this regard as they were future science entrepreneurs.

Published in Dawn, Aug 2nd, 2023

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