Arizona Cancer Evolution Center (ACE)

ACE visits Elementary School Science Club

In fall 2018, our team from ACE spent 4 days working with young children at Kyrene del Cielo Elementary School in Chandler, Arizona in their lunchtime science club ‘The DISCOVERoom’. We explained the variety and purposes of blood and how scientists and doctors work hard to keep people healthy when something goes wrong with it.

The DISCOVERoom is organized by Marni Ambar, a former math teacher, who started it 8 years ago when she and a group of like-minded parents realized that there wasn’t enough time in the school day to allow hands-on scientific inquiry. The school was generous enough to provide a dedicated room that now is filled with exciting equipment that the children love to use in the lunchtime science club. When we met Marni and heard about the DISCOVERoom, we immediately knew that ACE wanted to be involved.

But how do you talk to elementary aged children about cancer in a way that will be interesting and won’t cause them distress? As was explained to us by Marni, this age group has often heard the word cancer and may have a relative, or even a classmate, who has been treated for the disease. It was a challenge to present cancer to young children with curious minds but the wonderful Seema Plaisier found the answer!

Seema is a volunteer with ACE and she has a Ph.D. in Molecular and Medical Pharmacology. Now she has childcare responsibilities and is very in tune with creating science demonstrations that appeal to kids.

Seema searched the internet and brainstormed to find the best activities. She created demonstrations of blood (cane sugar, food coloring, rice and beads) to allow discussions of platelets and immune cells and their role in protecting us from infection and cancer. There was a microscope that children used to identify the different types of cells in a drop of blood and for the younger children, we had images of animals that the kids had to pair with green, blue and yellow blood – which actually tied in very well with one of our ACE projects – looking at cancer across all different species of animals.

About 200 children choose to come to The DISCOVERoom each week during their lunch recess for 20 minutes of self-directed discovery around everything ranging from bugs, buildings, electricity, magnets, outer space – and of course blood and cancer!

Marni Ambar views the room as the ‘hub of a STEM ecosystem’ connecting students’ learning to the outside world and enabling them to build a relationship with science by being with ‘special adults’ that obviously love it . From our experience, I can say that us adults got as much out of the experience as the kids!

We are returning to Kyrene del Cielo Elementary School soon with another demonstration for the kids – this time extracting DNA from strawberries.

Meanwhile, Marni is looking to expand The DISCOVERoom model to other schools, especially Title 1 schools (with nearly 100% of students on free and reduced lunch), and we definitely support her with that!