If you happened to walk by the atrium of the Weitz Center yesterday, you were greeted by a sight usually relegated to beaches and science museums. An inflatable, life-sized blue whale made entirely from plastic sheeting and tape lounged in the atrium, stretching almost all the way from one end of the Weitz common space to the other. Visitors were invited to climb inside the whale, through a small hole where it’s tail should have been. Ocean themed snacks were also provided.
The whale was designed and constructed by members of the ninth grade members of Stepping Up Into Science (SUITS) at Northfield High School. SUITS is an afterschool science club that, in coordination with Northfield High School science teachers, is lead by Carleton students Brittney Mikell ’13 and Holly Buttrey ’14.
Once a week the students meet to work on a hands-on science project, with a new project each term. The whale project started small: “At first we worked on conversions—converting feet to meters—so we could measure out the pieces to build the whale,” says Buttrey. The project helped students learn about various scientific concepts, such as air pressure, diagrams, measuring techniques, and whale biology.
For the rest of winter term, the SUITS students will focus on the science behind baking and will culminate with a collectively cooked dinner. In the spring, the SUITS curriculum will focus on robotics and solar powered cars, and provide students with the opportunity to work on their own individual projects.
The SUITS group grew out of a previous organization with similar aims, called Latino Lab, which catered to English as a Second Language (ESL) students. Because ESL students at Northfield High have an extra class period of English, they are often not able to enroll in science courses. Latino Lab, which met after school, gave interested students a chance to participate in science projects.
SUITS, which is closely affiliated with Academic Civic Engagement, is different from Latino Lab in that it is open to students of all backgrounds. Students who may be struggling with the formal nature of traditional lab structure are especially encouraged to participate, says Buttrey. The interactive nature of SUITS is a chance for these students to see scientific concepts in a more fun, approachable context.
Upon the completion of their project, the students inflated the whale at Northfield High, and received extremely positive reactions. “That’s why we wanted to do this here, at Carleton; we had people saying how cool it was and that they wanted to join when we displayed it at the High School, and we’re hoping for a similar reaction at Carleton.”
Buttrey says SUITS is looking for more volunteers from Carleton to get involved. If you are interested in helping with SUITS, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.