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Natural Disaster Response for STEM Educators in Puerto Rico: How to help?

Greetchen Díaz-Muñoz's picture

When a natural disaster affects the physical structure of classrooms and schools, the continuity of education is typically impacted. Depending on the severity of the disaster, educators and students may spend long periods without teaching or learning. This has been the case for Puerto Rico, an archipelago located in a geographical area vulnerable to climate change, and exposed to storms, hurricanes and seismic activity. Both the hurricanes of 2017, and the earthquakes that continue affecting Puerto Rico since December 28, 2019, have caused prolonged school disruptions, particularly in the public education system. Today, many public schools are closed or don't have a second semester start date, leaving hundreds of thousands of students with no opportunity to learn. For both the hurricane and earthquake emergencies, a common response has been to teach classes in trailers, under tents, or outdoors (referred to here as “alternative classrooms”). However, in many cases, there is improvisation on the content to be covered under these conditions, since educators do not have enough tools to be able to offer content appropriate to academic standards within this type of scenario. 

This is a problem of particular relevance to Ciencia Puerto Rico, since 25 educators and approximately 1,400 students participating this year from our Science in Service of Puerto Rico and Seeds of Success projects are in the some of the areas most affected by the earthquakes. 

Through its Science Education Program, the organization proposes the following tools and strategies to respond to the need for educational content that is easily implementable by STEM educators in alternative classrooms, and particularly for participants of the Science in Service 2019-2020 project.  The use of these resources can be of great impact now, at times when there are no concrete plans for thousands of students to return to classes, and generally in the long term to increase the resilience of the education system.

  1. STEM Educational Continuity Kits –  We have designed an "emergency kit"  for educators  containing accessible and reproducible educational material, with content aligned  to  the Department of Education' of Puerto Rico’s science and math standards (and with the ability to align to other subject standards)  for  elementary, intermediate and higher levels (regular and Montessori) and with guidelines for its implementation. Educational material can be used outside the traditional classroom and does not require the use of electrical power, and/or advanced technology. Materials in each "kit" can cover content for approximately 3-5 months. 
  2. Foldscope Workshops for Students and Educators in Alternative Classrooms – Foldscope is a low-cost, durable, multi-purpose, optical-quality paper microscope, similar to conventional research microscopes, that can be used as an educational tool. 
  3. Visits by STEM professionals and university students to alternative classrooms – Scientists in Service is a CienciaPR project that facilitates the participation of professionals and students from STEM disciplines in the improvement of science education in Puerto Rico. Through a digital platform, CienciaPR pairs them with educators and provides them with the necessary information and guides to coordinate a visit. A specific call is proposed to extend the project to the alternative classrooms and to schools participating in the Science in Service program.  

How can you or your organization collaborate with CienciaPR?

  • Sponsor the creation and distribution of kits 
    • A $55 donation via PayPal assures the creation and distribution of 1 classroom kit. 
    • Contact us if you would like your company or organization to sponsor large numbers of kits
    • Contact us if you would like your company or organization to sponsor the creation of new kits, focused on other STEM topics.
    • You can buy Foldscopes and sent to:
Ciencia Puerto Rico
P.O. Box 195289
San Juan, PR 00919
  • Contact us  if you would like to donate educational material for elementary, intermediate and/or high school grades that can be added to the educator kits. Material must be easy to use and should not require special training. We accept materials for educators and/or students. If sending materials for students, please include 30-40 for each classroom kit.
  • Complete this form if you would like to volunteer and/or provide company employees for kit distribution and/or to train to offer Foldscope workshops.
  • Contact us if you would like to provide workshop space and/or coordination logistics so that we can offer the train-the-trainer workshops to more scientists and educators
  • Register for the Scientist in Service Program and share with other colleagues.
  • Let us know if you are in charge of an alternative school with educators that can benefit by filling a short form

With the support, donations and collaborations of various foundations, individuals and collaborators like you, we seek to create and distribute at least 150 kits to classrooms across the most impacted communities, offer Foldscope workshops, and train STEM scientists and experts so they can visit schools in a 1st phase. In this way we hope to impact at least 150 educators and 3,000 students in Puerto Rico from February to June 2020. For the 2nd phase, we will seek to continue optimizing and expanding the kits and training teachers and staff of the Department of Education so that they get prepared for a next emergency. 

We thank the support of:

We thank the collaboration of:

American Chemical Society- Puerto Rico Section