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What happens when more than 250 members of the MIT community are charged with teaching middle- and high-school students for a weekend? Kids end up choosing from 400 classes in topics as diverse as quantum electrodynamics, chocolate sculpting, video-game programming, and simple–yet explosive–chemistry reactions. This all-in-good-fun approach to learning, enjoyed by nearly 1,700 students each November, is the hallmark of Splash, an initiative begun in 1988 by the Educational Studies Program (ESP).

“Splash is meant to be an exploration,” says 2007 codirector Yalu Wu ‘09. “A lot of students have discovered what they like and also what they don’t like.” Students can ­sample or deepen their knowledge of the sciences, engineering, liberal-arts disciplines, and hobbies, or they can take prep courses for Advanced Placement (AP) tests and the SAT.

Most of the students get their first taste of college life and personal independence at Splash. And the dynamics of the groups are themselves instructive. Either “students all talk together and completely ignore the age difference,” says codirector David Farhi ‘10, “or the twelfth graders can become mentors helping the seventh graders along.”

Outreach tackles National Challenge
MIT’s interest in preparing young students for science and technology careers dates back at least a half-century. In 1956, MIT physics professors collaborated with high-school teachers to create new teaching materials that emphasized direct engagement with the tools of science, dramatically changing physics instruction in high schools nationwide. And many of the Institute’s scores of K-12 enrichment programs, which sponsor presentations, tours, innovative software and teaching tools, competitions, summer and weekend programs, and research opportunities for students and teachers locally and nationwide, boast decades of success.

Now President Hockfield has spurred MIT to reinvigorate its efforts in the face of low interest in science and engineering in the United States–where only 6 percent of undergraduates are likely to pursue engineering careers. “We need to be the spark that ignites the passion of every child who wants to grow up to make the world a better place,” Hockfield said in her inauguration speech.

Innovative new programs include a website, Highlights for High School, that matches thousands of OpenCourseWare video and audio clips, animations, lecture notes, and assignments to AP courses. The MIT Science of Baseball Program (MSBP), a four-week summer course that began in 2007, teaches math and science to local eighth-grade boys just when they tend to lose interest in such subjects, according to Dedric A. Carter ‘98, MEng ‘99, assistant dean for development and strategic initiatives and executive director of engineering outreach programs at the School of Engineering (SoE).

In the baseball program, the boys compute on-base percentages and predict the flight paths of home runs in the morning; in the afternoon, they take the field to apply what they’ve learned. “The baseball diamond is a laboratory through which math comes to life,” says Carter.

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Credit: Mary Knox Merrill/The Christian Science Monitor

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