iPraxis, a Philadelphia non-profit, is dedicated to bettering the lives of inner-city children by bringing more STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education to Philadelphia schools by connecting middle school aged students with professional scientists while providing hands-on learning.
“One of the things that I like about iPraxis is that we’re always doing different hands-on activities,” said Northwood Academy Charter School eighth-grader Draki Ballard. “One activity that I liked participating in was Beta Day, which was an event where we learned about STEM through different experiments. It was a lot of fun.
“I’m actually interested in engineering and building different things, so participating in iPraxis has only fueled my passion in those areas,” he added. “I will actually be going to George Washington Carver High School of Engineering and Science for high school.”
Founded in 2004, by a group of predominantly African-American science and business professionals interested in increasing the number of minorities actively participating in Philadelphia’s scientific community as researchers, business owners, employees, and suppliers, the organization teaches students how to investigate, problem solve and create by putting ideas into action.
“Since our inception, we’ve partnered with a variety of schools across the city,” said president and founder of iPraxis Jeremiah White. “What we do is we go into the science class and now more recently the after school programs and we bring in volunteers that have history and studies in degrees in science and work with the children on science fair projects, earning basic science concepts, and engineering and technology concepts as well.
“This year, we’ve also introduced more of STEAM because we’ve encountered some people through the organization MIT that make music music video and games. We wanted to introduce students to that as well. We want to encourage the students to understand that they can do STEM because a lot of students believe that they can do things in those area.
“We want to expose them to what’s going on in the world of STEM, what kinds of jobs are out there, what kind of careers they can have, and what the different opportunities are in those areas,” he added. “We also want the students to believe in themselves. They need to know that they can overcome anything.”
iPraxis offers students a variety of activities including science fair mentoring, science fair competitions, science fair judging, after-school programs, presentations and workshops, and site visits and field trips.
The program also participates in the annual Philadelphia Science Festival Carnival. Last year, six scienteers joined two iPraxis staff members to staff the Carnival tent and demonstrate and explain how density affects a bubble’s behavior.
“This year I participated in my first science fair,” said Hardy Williams Mastery Charter School eighth-grader Trinity Ellis. “My observation for my project was how does the rate of chewing gum affect the maximum length. While my experience for the project was challenging at first, it was also fun. I could definitely see myself participating in another science fair. I now know what to expect and what the process for the project itself would be like.
“iPraxis didn’t just help me learn more about science, but the program also helped me personally,” she added. “Before being in the program, I was shy and didn’t want to talk to anyone. The science project really helped me come out of my shell more. I had to be able to communicate with others. I also made a lot of new friends.”
Through relationships with various local organizations, iPraxis is able to offer students STEM opportunities through experiments, projects, and presentations. Some of the organizations that iPraxis has connected with over the years include Temple, Penn, Drexel along with sometimes Thomas Jefferson and St. Joseph University and the Pennovation Center.
In January, iPraxis and University of Pennsylvania (Penn) Graduate Association of Bioengineers (GAB) hosted their annual Beta Day at the Pennovation Center. The event offers iPraxis students from neighboring schools an opportunity to meet and share ideas while learning about the work of Penn’s graduate bioengineers.
The students also observed underwater robotics demos in Penn’s General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception (GRASP) laboratory and participated in workshops in biomaterials, DNA, and neuroscience.
“This was the first time we had a Beta Day in association with GAB at the University of Pennsylvania,” said managing director of the Pennovation Center Carter McClure. “We had middle school students from six to eight different schools and they were exposed to some of the things that happened at the Pennovation Center every day. The day itself was a success.
“We want to continue to have events like what we had for Beta Day, but we also want to take it one step farther. I was fortunate enough to go to Northwood and see some of the work that iPraxis was doing for their science day there. They were using elements of design thinking and allowing students to partner with subject matter experts in science and robotics.
“We want to be a part of that,” he added. “We have startups and scientists and engineers at Pennovation who wants to go to these schools and support the mission that iPraxis has already started. We all want to help the students become more engaged with STEM and STEAM. They are our future and we want to do everything we can along with iPraxis to make sure that they will be ready and prepared for future careers in this field.”