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  • Simone Lassar

Our First Learning Festival (in MA)

Updated: Jul 13, 2022

Hi everyone! Simone here, coming to you live with some exciting updates about Spokes' first Learning Festival before we hit the road!

This past Friday, Spokes hosted our first Learning Festival! For those unfamiliar with the term, Learning Festivals are what we call the STEM workshops we host in towns along our route this summer. Each year, Spokes stops at ~10 schools, libraries, or summer camps across the country and we host exciting, hands-on workshops on topics related to science, technology, engineering, and math.

This year we are doing something a little different for our Learning Festivals, which is that we are incorporating two juvenile justice treatment programs to host workshops at. This Friday, we hosted our first workshops at a juvenile justice treatment program in Massachusetts. We’ve expanded our Learning Festivals into these centers because prison education is something I’ve been very involved with in my time at MIT. I have taken and TA’d classes through TEJI, the Educational Justice Initiative, which is an MIT-based non-profit dedicated to providing transformative learning experiences for incarcerated individuals and university students. In these classes, MIT students (outside students) are able to take classes on a wide range of topics with incarcerated individuals (inside students).

The class I took with Professor Lee Perlman two and half years ago was entitled “Non-violence as a Way of Life,” and it delved into topics such as forgiveness, patience, kindness and many more. It was one of the best classes I’ve taken while at MIT. Lee is a fantastic teacher and a really caring person; I’ve TA’d with him ever since taking the first inside-out class my Sophomore fall. When I told him about Spokes, he asked if I’d thought about expanding these Learning Festivals to teach adjudicated youth. I thought this was a fantastic idea, so we set up two of these festivals at centers in Boston and DC.

Photo 1: Maxwell (left) and Robert (right) in front of their 3d printing workshop and slides!

Four of our seven members made the journey to central Mass this Friday to a DYS (Department of Youth Services) facility, and we led two exciting workshops. One of the workshops showed students how 3d printing works, and the other workshop involved creating a solar cell out of the juice from berries. You can read more about how this actually works here!

In the solar cell classroom, the workshop I helped lead with Sophia, we had a solar cell competition! After soaking our titanium dioxide slides in the juice from blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries, each student put together their berry soaked slide with their carbon covered slide, and we put a few drops of an iodide solution in between the two slides. We then dramatically turned off the lights and tested each student's solar cell with a flashlight and a multimeter. Our winning solar cell achieved a whopping voltage of 0.47 volts! We tested out different fruit combinations for the solar cells (ie. multi-berry, raspberry, blackberry, or blueberries solar cells), and had the most success with the raspberry solar cell with one group, but the blueberry solar cell in another group. The berries are an essential part of this device because of a compound in many purple plants called anthocyanin, which is uniquely able to absorb light and convert it to excite electrons.

Photo 2: Testing out one of the student’s solar cells with a flashlight and multimeter.

The students were excited about building these cells and we had some great conversations about the use of solar cells in their lives. One student who is interested in working in construction talked about how he may want to install solar cells onto houses in the future. There was special interest in solar panels when we talked about the opportunity to earn subsidies from installing solar panels on one’s house!

Some other highlights of the day were talking about our bike trip with the students. There was great disbelief that we were actually going to bike across the entire country this summer, “I’ll believe it when I see it,” one student told us (and we indeed will be keeping them updated with blog posts along the way!). A few students told us that they would never want to bike across the country, but they would love to drive. There was also a major epiphany in one of our sessions, when we were talking about our biking route from Washington D.C. to San Francisco. One student asked us why we were traveling from the West Coast to the East, back to the west. He then realized that Washington D.C. is in fact on the East Coast! This was pretty mind blowing for this student, and we were glad to have imparted some wild facts (solar cell related or not) with the students!

Photo 3: This DYS facility has an active horticulture program. Here you can see a small assortment of the plants they grow!

We had a great time teaching here! Thank you DYS and CES (Collaborative for Educational Services) so much for hosting us, TEJI for making this connection, and the students for participating! Thank you for reading, and stay tuned for more updates!

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