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Symantec Volunteers Put Hands-on STEM Project Ideas to the Test

Symantec employees in multiple locations put a set of Science Buddies Project Ideas to a hands-on test. This team meeting may have felt like a day at school, but by working together to build and test simple motors and shake-it-up energy sources, Symantec volunteers helped Science Buddies make sure that a set of new student science and engineering projects were all set for students. As the volunteers discovered, working through an electronics science project, even one aimed at 4th-6th grade students, can be challenging—but fun!


Symantec volunteers test science kits
Symantec volunteers test science kits

At Science Buddies, we are fortunate to have the support of a range of corporate donors like Symantec, sponsors who join us in our dedication to helping K-12 students enjoy and excel in science—and helping their teachers and parents support and encourage science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) learning. Science Buddies offers more than 1,200 hands-on Project Ideas and thousands of pages of resources for teachers, parents, and students working on science fair, classroom, at-home, or independent science projects and activities.

With changing school curricula (and the adoption of Next-Generation Science Standards (NGSS)), more and more attention is being given to hands-on science and engineering projects, and members of the Science Buddies community turn to Science Buddies as a trusted source of quality procedures for hands-on learning.


Hands-on Support for Hands-on Science Education

Thanks to financial support from sponsors like Symantec, our site resources remain free to use for the more than 15 million students, teachers, and parents who visit Science Buddies each year for assistance locating a science project, following the steps of the scientific or engineering method, finding science activities to do at home, or integrating active science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) learning in the classroom.

Empowering students and exciting them about science requires the involvement of many, many people and organizations. Science Buddies is fortunate to have volunteers from sponsor companies who assist in our online Ask an Expert forums and who help support science literacy in their own communities by judging at local science fair judges.

When a group of employees at Symantec selected Science Buddies for a team-building day of volunteer service, Science Buddies was excited to have a group of extra hands to test a set of new electronics and electricity projects and kits.


Quality Science Project Ideas

Before Project Ideas at Science Buddies reach students, they go through multiple rounds of editing, peer review, and hands-on testing by our in-house team of scientists and editors. The Science Buddies team works hard to ensure that students are given solid background material, a complete materials list, and a well-explained step-by-step procedure that will lead students to measurable and clear results appropriate for the project's level of difficulty and complexity.

When possible, having projects tested by other adults or students, provides additional information about the projects and may help identify areas in need of clarification or areas where additional visual aids or resources would be beneficial. Having Symantec offer to have more than thirty employees work in groups and help test three different electronics project was a wonderful opportunity for the scientists at Science Buddies to gather additional data about the usability, repeatability, and clarity of these new projects.


Symantec Employees Choose Science Buddies for Day of Service

In December, Symantec employees gathered at offices in California, Florida, Oregon, and Singapore to pretend for the morning that they were students or parents presented with a science project to work through. All the materials were on hand, so the volunteers were asked to read through the background material and then follow the procedure provided, just as a student would.

Not all volunteers had technical backgrounds, which is perfect for project testing. The projects were all targeted for students in grades 5-8, and students choosing these projects would not necessarily approach the project with any prior electronics experience. Similarly, when a parent assists a student with elements of a science project, the parent may or may not have any expertise in the area of the science project. Having employees and adult volunteers sit down and work through the steps of an experimental procedure helps Science Buddies ensure that the project directions are clear, that all necessary steps are provided, and that the projects work as they are written.

"Giving people instructions is full of hidden pitfalls," acknowledges Sandra Slutz, Lead Scientist for Science Buddies. "Things that seem crystal clear and easy when you are doing them can be challenging to explain. Imagine telling someone who has never cooked before how to cook rice. They need so many specific directions. What does 'high' heat mean? What does a simmer look like? How long should it cook? The list goes on. When you write instructions, it is easy to overlook something that seems obvious to you. That is why we feel so incredibly lucky when we have multiple teams of people testing a project. Each team comes at it with a different set of experiences, so they can catch completely different oversights. In the end, we take their feedback and use it to make a much better set of instructions so that students can have a successful science project experience."

During their morning of volunteer testing, many of the Symantec volunteer teams successfully completed their projects, but a few ran out of time or encountered problems executing the procedure. While it can be frustrating for a volunteer (or a student or parent) to have a project "not work," knowing where problems occur helps Science Buddies strengthen the materials to provide an even better experience for the students who may ultimately select the project for a school fair or assignment.

"The Symantec teams tackled the projects we gave them wholeheartedly, and we're very grateful for all their feedback," says Slutz. "Some teams actually ran into a lot of trouble and didn't complete their project—but for us this wasn't a failure, it was successful testing. That feedback allowed us to go back and re-evaluate our instructions. It turned out that something simple we had overlooked in two of the projects (the width of the tape used to wrap a component) made a huge difference in how the project performed. Symantec's team testing helped us uncover that problem. Thanks to them, we've clarified our materials list—a change that will save students hours of frustration!"

Kristen Woods, Senior Director at Symantec Corporation, organized the volunteer event for her team. According to Woods, she suggested Science Buddies to her team instead of a more traditional volunteer activity because "the work supports one of Symantec's core philanthropy areas: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math education, and because the format of the work allowed us to conduct the event in multiple sites globally."

Ashley Savageau, Community Relations Program Manager at Symantec, agrees that the volunteer testing was a great opportunity for Symantec employees to get hands-on with one of the organizations the company supports.

"I was thrilled the team chose to develop an activity with Science Buddies," says Savageau. "They are a long time partner of Symantec's, so it helped cement that commitment by providing our employees' skills in addition to our corporate dollars. I also loved the fact this was able to happen across multiple geographies to help with virtual team building! The team reported that they really enjoyed doing something that supported the company's values and was different than the average volunteer event, and that they even learned something along the way!"

"Working with Symantec to help create a meaningful, STEM-related Day of Service for the volunteers was a great experience," says Amy Cowen, Online Community Manager and Volunteer Coordinator for Science Buddies. "We are grateful to have had financial support from Symantec for a number of years, but opportunities to have their employees help in hands-on ways are wonderful."

"The project testing Symantec provided was a learning experience for Science Buddies as well," adds Cowen. "We are excited to take what we learned about facilitating team testing in the workplace to create new volunteer opportunities for sponsor companies in the future."


Science Buddies Project Ideas in computer science are sponsored by Symantec Corporation.

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Your Science!
What will you explore for your science project this year? What is your favorite classroom science activity? Email us a short (one to three sentences) summary of your science project or teaching tip. You might end up featured in an upcoming Science Buddies newsletter!



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