A plant? It’s just…a plant!

By Reem

This week, our guest scientist Anna Chen joined us once again at Reavis to teach us about the differences in plant and animal biology. First up, an easy question: What is a plant?

“A plant? It’s just…a plant!”

But what does a plant do? Anna asks us about the differences between plants and animals.

“Animals can run!”
“Animals can eat!”
“Plants are just…plants!”

All good answers! A major difference in plant and animal biology is motion: animals are capable of movement, and plants are not. Animals need to eat food to live, and plants can make their own food. But what about water? Animals can drink water, but what do plants do?

The girls shared everything they knew about the water cycle, and how water from rain ends up in the ground, where it can be absorbed by the roots of a plant. From there, tubes called xylem suck the water up the plant like a straw, so the entire plant can get water and nutrients (“like blood vessels?” Yep!).

To see how xylem works, the girls experimented with the water transport mechanism of carnations, a type of flower. First, we put food dye in a cup of water to change it to any color we wanted. Then, we put the stem of the carnation in the dyed water. The water travels up the inside of the stem through the xylem, and eventually the white flower petals change into the color of the dye!

The girls were very creative with their mixing of different food dyes, and we ended up with a beautiful variety of multi-colored carnations. Thanks for the easy, fun experiment, Anna!

Next week, we’ll be looking back on everything we’ve learned so far with our Reflection of Knowledge. I’m excited to see the girls’ wonderful presentations!


Make an Impact!

We need your help to change the face of science!

Sisters4Science is a Project Exploration program where girls explore science after school through hands-on experiments led by female scientists.  Every week the Sisters engage with a new scientist from the greater Chicago community.   The experience exposes girls to positive role models and unique perspectives.

We are seeking female scientists interested in guest lecturing.  We provide a $75.00 stipend, coaching and material reimbursement. Each classroom will have a STEM Facilitator to assist you and to provide logistical support during your lesson.


Below is a link to a calendar with all open guest lecture opportunities for spring.  Take a look and see if anything works with your schedule.  You are welcome to sign up for multiple slots if you would like.  Send an email if anything looks like it will work for you and I will get you signed up!

Spring Opportunities


(Click on the link above.  Note that there are opportunities through May.)

Our blog will provide a look at other presentations going on in classrooms.


(Click on the link above.)

Please contact Krystal Meisel (contact information below) with any questions and to reserve a space today!

Krystal Meisel

Program Manager


4511 S. Evans Avenue, Chicago, IL 60653

p. 312.273.4026

c. 805.403.2482



Knowledge Sharing Session

By Marilee

After a restful winter break, Finkl Sisters4Science reconvened this week to the delight and excitement of all involved.

We began our session with a Knowledge Sharing Session, a new initiative the girls requested in which I will share the story of a female scientist, and they will teach me a Spanish phrase. We thus embrace the role of both teacher and student, each sharing something we know.

I chose Marie Curie as this week’s female scientist of the week. We learned that though she graduated from high school with honors at age fifteen, she didn’t attend college until 24 since she underwent a nervous illness, couldn’t attend university in Poland (girls were barred from receiving such education) and had to save up to attend the Sorbonne in Paris. There, she became one of the first women to receive a doctorate in the sciences and went on to meet Pierre Curie, her husband, whom she helped with his own work. In 1903, she received the Nobel Prize in physics with Pierre for their work on spontaneous radiation, becoming the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize. In 1911, Marie Curie became the first person to receive a second Nobel Prize and remains the only woman to receive a Nobel Prize in two different fields, garnering the Nobel Prize in chemistry for her discovery of the elements radium and polonium.

[The American Institute of Physics has a quick biography at http://www.aip.org/history/curie/brief/.]

I asked the students how they felt about Marie Curie.

“Wow!” Lesly exclaimed. “Maybe one day I’ll study science and get a Nobel Prize!”

Everyone agreed Marie Curie had accomplished an impressive feat.

“Now, we’ll teach you,” Lesly said, and chose this week’s Spanish phrase:

¿Quien quiere pasar los materiales?

            Who wants to pass out the materials?

With that, we passed out the materials for and began “Moon Landing,” a team activity in which we decided individual and group rankings for fifteen items we’d need to survive on the moon and then compared our rankings to NASA’s official rankings.

Surprising items topped the official list, while others that the students had thought of greater value migrated to the bottom of NASA’s list. We learned that a box of matches was useless, coming in at #15 since the lack of oxygen on the moon precludes combustion. Parachute silk was ranked #8 — not to help astronauts land but rather to protect them from the sun’s rays. A self-inflating life raft came in at #9 not because the astronauts might need a raft on the moon but because it’s carbon dioxide bottle could be used for propulsion.

Such discoveries amazed the girls.

When we journaled on the exercise, Denise shared that she “used to think being an astronaut was really boring” but now knows “it’s really hard.” Alice said she never before thought a pistol might be useful in space but now knows that “you can use guns to propel yourself in space.” Jade added that she used to think “space was dangerous” but now knows “you can bring stuff to help you survive.” Margarita finished by saying that now she knows “how important water is in space because you can get dehydrated near the sun.”

We ended class with a lesson on helicopters. We folded bits of paper to imitate the basic structure of helicopters to mimic their blades. By throwing them in the air, the girls learned that without the blades, the paper helicopters simply sank to the ground, a consequence of the force of gravity pulling them down. Once the paper helicopters had slanted blades, however, the paper crafts introduced a degree of air resistance that helped the helicopters spin. We played around with different types and sizes of paper, as well as paper clips, learning that the weight of the helicopter is equal to the force of gravity. Thus, the weight of the helicopter affected how quickly it fell to the ground and how much it spun in the air.


            During journaling about the lesson, Alice said that she now knows “gravity depends on weight,” with Lesly adding that the size and weight of the helicopter matter.

We can’t wait to learn more during our next session!


Welcome-Back Day

By Bori

We have waited so long for Sisters4Science to get restarted this semester!  The girls were so excited to come in the Sisters4Science class!  The girls were running into the classroom all the way from the hallway, giving me a warm fuzzy hugs!

I jotted down the following journal prompt to open the class: “What would you like to do in Sisters4Science this semester? You may list your ideas and explain why.”  One response caught my eye.  Faith wrote, “Let the lesson be interesting. Surprise me.”  Most girls always love hands-on learning.  They do not think Science is boring anymore.  By revisiting the Code of Conduct we created in the beginning of the year, we had a whole group discussion—what we’d like for this class to be like this semester.  All girls were very passionate making a positive learning environment.  I always love seeing the girls come up with their own ideas to make Sisters4Science so wonderful!



Moving onto the next mission we had, we were working on the recruitment strategy.  We needed more girls to keep this class going.  I said, “Most girls think Science is boring.” “No, actually not. Everything is hands-on!” claimed Ashley.  “Yes, that’s right! All of you are the witness.  That’s why I am asking for your help to recruit the girls.  Any ideas?”  “I can make a list of 8th graders and we can start from there,” said Faith.  “Thank you, Faith.” So we have set up the schedule for a recruitment party.  It will be next Wednesday!


Last mission before the class ends, we were packing the most critical items for the emergency moon landing at a spot 200 miles from a rendezvous point.  There were 15 items listed and we were to find which one is the most or the least critical for the survival.  The senior girls were very interested in searching the items. “It’s fascinating!  I love it!” said Shelby.  “I don’t think we need matches at all. It wouldn’t work up there.”  “I have water come first.  Without food it is fine, but we can’t survive without water.  Our body needs water.”

I loved just listening to their on-going science conversation!  They did such a fabulous job!  We are all looking forward to another amazing semester in Sisters4Science.

Spring Kick-Off Meeting

The YOUmedia space in the Harold Washington Library hosted us for our spring kick-off meeting on Sunday, January 12th. The meeting began with a metaphorming activity, inspired from the Art of Science Learning Chicago Incubator introductory activity led by Todd Siler, where the facilitators were challenged to make a visual representation of what “teaching” meant to them as a team. The result was moving and powerful to say the least! Diversity, connectivity, adding life experience to the classroom mixture and investigating the world with students were ideas that were presented using the theme of oranges.


Reem and Brittany adding final touches to their metaphorming activity.

The meeting was interactive and included brain breaks to incorporate movement into the meeting and into Sisters4Science classrooms, utilized a strategy known as Chalk Talk where the facilitators were asked to communicate using only writing, and finished with a fascinating tour of the YOUmedia space led by Daniel Tamayo. Brienne was in love with the 3-D printer and wants to bring her class to the space this semester!


Facilitators participating in the Chalk Talk

Each facilitator brought a lesson to share  and we are excited to announce that Stories from Cory, an initiative to provide books to under-resourced classroom led by Sharon Kiddon, will be providing all of the Sisters with copies of Mae Jemison’s 100 Year Starship for implementation of Tolu’s lesson on female role models.

We are extremely excited for the next chapter in Sisters4Science!  We would like to thank our funders: City of Chicago’s Department of  Family and Support Services, HUD, Polk Bros. Foundation, Chicago Foundation For Women, Siragusa Foundation, Motorola Solutions Foundation, the Replogle Foundation and Sara Paretsky.  We would also like to thank YOUmedia and Stories from Cory for their support.  Project Exploration is honored to have such dedicated, innovative and inspiring leaders changing the face of science every week in Sisters4Science classrooms!


From left: Brienne, Reem, Syda, Krystal, Marilee, Bori, Tolu

Winter Science Exploration

By Maureen

On Friday, January 3, 14 hardy girls (and four boys, including my four-year-old son!) braved the cold and snow to travel to the Chicago Botanic Garden and learn more about photosynthesis. On the way there, Program Manager Krystal Meisel challenged them to learn—or review—as much about photosynthesis as they could, either from each other, from the chaperones, or by texting or calling a friend.

 When we arrived, CBG volunteers led a review of photosynthesis and the group aced all their questions. Then they explained the basics of cellular respiration, when plants use up stored food they’ve made through photosynthesis. Knowing that plants make food when sunlight is available, the youth were invited to hypothesize whether plants in the garden greenhouse would be photosynthesizing food or using up stored food through cellular respiration.

Gabby Faith

Inside the garden, the students formed teams and used probes to measure the amounts of oxygen and carbon dioxide the plants were releasing overtime. The teams captured clear readings of decreasing amounts of oxygen, showing that the plants were using up stored food, not making new food.

Natasha helping

In a second activity, the students put plant cell samples from a desert plant and a rainforest plant under a microscope to find and count the stomata in each. They found that the jade plant had fewer stomata because it needs to conserve water more than the rainforest plant does.


After lunch the group took time to explore the Winter Wonderland model train exhibit. This was my son’s favorite part, and the older kids enjoyed it too.

 “Before I came, I didn’t know anything about photosynthesis,” said 6th-grader Eryn W. “I’m going to remember it’s how we get oxygen.”

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