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UMass Lowell Program Helps Kids Soak Up Science

By Used with permission from the Lowell Sun Online. By SUSAN McMAHON, Sun Staff

LOWELL On a late Tuesday afternoon, the Flanagan Community Center was abuzz with the quick motion of children, the pounding keys and happy shouts of a 10-year-old on a computer.

After attending school all day, learning from math and reading books, these students come to the center, located in the Flanagan Village housing projects, where they can soak in some extra bits of science.

Called ScienceQuest, the program aims to get students interested in science and technology at an early age. By concentrating the program at centers within the city's housing projects, program organizers aim to reach students who may not have academic after-school opportunities.

Youngsters will go outside, armed with digital cameras, and shoot pictures of the sky above them or the snow at their feet. Then they post the pictures on their Web site and do research on all the different aspects of the photo.

"We will go outside and take a picture of the snow on the ground. In the end, they'll have their own Web page it's kind of a goal they look forward to," said Caitlin Halloran of Tewksbury, a UMass Lowell student who is one of the coaches of the ScienceQuest teams.

The ScienceQuest program is a national one, encouraging community centers to reach out to students through after-school programs and to promote science education.

For the organizers, it was a way to both utilize the computer rooms at the housing projects and give students a goal to accomplish.

"We had the kids using computers, but there was no structure to it," said project coordinator Dan Toomey. "It filled that need for us."

At the end of the project, each team will have a Web site filled with photos, facts and research.

Roxanna Rosado, 10 and Zach Cormier, 11, were working on their Web site, looking up facts about space.

"I get to learn more about science," Cormier said. "The earth and the sun and the planets and stuff."

"It's interesting," said 8-year-old Amanda Amparo. "You get to learn about space."