Straw Bridges at Reavis

This week in Sisters4Science, the girls at Reavis explored engineering! First, we talked about how we would modify or change something about the world or about ourselves to make it better. Trushana wanted to make herself faster and stronger, and Kemonte had the idea to encourage people to clean up after themselves to make the world better. All of the girls had some great ideas for how to fix world problems!

Now that we talked about how to fix problems in general, we turned to a specific example. Engineering, after all, is about planning and modifying things to make them work as well as possible.
The Challenge: to build a bridge that could cross a 25 cm gap between two tables
The Materials: 20 plastic straws and tape
The Teams: Trushana, Kemonte, and Aaliyah vs. Tiana and Alita
The Competition: the winning bridge would be the one that could hold the largest number of paperclips without breaking
Each time took some time to plan out their bridge, including measuring how long it had to be to cross the gap, and thinking about how to make it stronger. Then, we started building. There were straws being taped side-to-side and straws being taped end-to-end, and great discussions about how wide it would have to be to hold the cup with the paperclips and how long it would have to be to balance on either side of the gap.
Finally, we tested it!
Team #1 (Trushana, Kemonte, and Aaliyah) were able to place 42 paperclips into the styrofoam cup on their bridge before it tilted to the side and fell.
Team #2 (Tiana and Alita) placed 75 paperclips on their bridge before it collapsed!
After the challenge (and clean-up!), we talked about how to improve bridge structures. We learned that a truss (a series of triangles) was the most stable way to build a bridge because it would distribute the weight evenly.
Overall, both of the bridges were very impressive. Great job, Sisters!

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!

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

Extracting DNA

By Reem

20131119_173132We had an exciting day at Reavis this week–guest scientist Anna Chen taught our Sisters how to extract and see our own DNA! First, we learned about the organization of life, from the small scale to a larger scale. The girls talked about atoms, and how they make up molecules, which make up cells, which make up tissues, which make up organs, which make up systems, which make up an organism like a human, which make up a population, which make up a community, which make up an ecosystem…and on and on!
The girls shared their misconceptions about DNA (“It’s in EVERY cell? Really? Even in our lungs?”) and we talked about how important DNA is as the blueprint of our bodies.
20131119_172013Then, we got to conduct a very cool experiment: how to extract your DNA using basic materials! Each girl scraped some DNA off her tongue (“We have DNA in our mouths too?? Can we taste it?”), and spit into a test tube. We learned that DNA was in every cell’s nucleus, so we needed some way to get it alone. We added a few drops of dish soap into the tube to break down the membrane that surrounds each cell. Then, we added pineapple juice (delicious and educational!) to our tubes to destroy the proteins in our cells that might get in the way. Finally, we added salt to solidify the DNA, and isopropyl alcohol to dissolve everything except the DNA. When we mixed it all together, we could see our own DNA floating around inside the test tube!
The Sisters were very excited to take a sample of their DNA home–Alita even made an extra DNA test tube–and now we all know how to extract our DNA using simple materials. We’re excited to learn more from Anna next week!


Sisters 4 Chromatography – Nov 5 at Reavis

By Reem

ReavisThis week, to celebrate the beginning of November, the Sisters at Reavis learned about the components of a leaf, and how leaves change color in the fall. First, we all answered the question: What makes a human? If you had to describe a human to an alien, how would you do it? The girls had interesting answers, ranging from “humans eat” to “humans speak to each other” to “humans have fun!” Then, we turned our attention to our next question: what makes a leaf? We learned about pigments, and how chlorophyll (which is necessary for photosynthesis) makes the leaves green. In the fall, chlorophyll wears off, and the other pigments in a leaf are exposed, making the leaves look red or yellow.

20131105_172752 (1)To investigate this phenomenon, each Sister took a leaf of a different color, poured nail polish remover on it, and used a coffee filter to absorb the pigment from the leaf–this technique is called chromatography. The girls had a lot of fun, and learned something neat about pigments and leaves, too!

The sisters at Reavis learn about immune systems with Dr. Molinero

By Bori

Dr. Molinero explaining antibodies.

Dr. Molinero explaining antibodies.

Exploring Our Immune System

We had an awesome scientist from Argentia, Dr. Luciana Molinero.  She is a research assistant professor at the University of Chicago and works in biomedical sciences.  The topic of her research is how the immune system of a patient reacts when they receive a transplanted organ.



Dr. Molinero had the girls explore the functions of their immune system through an activity that involved balloons.  The girls were SO in love with the balloons and they worked really well to grab the student’s attention.   We all enjoyed being a scavenger, molecule, and a virus.   As you see in the photos, the girls with the yellow balloons are the viruses (before the flu shot)–only the virus are allowed to have yellow balloons, the girls with the strings are antibodies and the rest are the scavengers.  When yellow balloons/viruses are present, the antibodies touch them, then the scavengers are trying to pull antibodies out to destroy the virus, but since it is before the flu shot, “antibodies” are losing their strength as they are pulled out.



In another scene, after the flu shot, the viruses are still presented with light blue or purple balloons.  Though antibodies touch the viruses, we have all had a flu shot so “antibodies” are safe.  Later on, Dr. Molinero concluded how antibodies are protecting us from the bad ones like the viruses based on the activity.  The activity made it much easier for the girls to understand antibodies.