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Alumna Designs After-school Project

Alumna Designs After-school Project
'SC alumna educates roughly 50 students from L.A. middle schools in aeronautics.

By Swetha Jilla

Daily Trojan - Issue date: 9/29/06 Section: News
Media Credit: Stephanie Harnett

In Tara Chklovski's classroom, there are no lectures. Only experiments.

"The best way to learn something is to discover it yourself," said Chklovski, a USC alumna and founder of Iridescent, a program that offers aeronautical model-building workshops for middle school students.

About 50 students from Los Angeles-area middle schools and after-school-enrichment programs participate in the Iridescent workshops, which culminate in flying student-designed model airplanes.

Once or twice a week, students meet with Chklovski after school for an hour and a half, building on concepts learned in previous sessions.

The workshop practices what Chklovski calls the "predict, observe, explain" method of understanding concepts.

Students first discuss scientific and basic flight concepts and then design and build their own model airplanes.

Next, they make predictions about what will happen in their test flights based on how they change their models. A student might change the wing shape, size or placement to adjust the range, endurance or maneuverability of the plane.

When flights do not go as expected, Chklovski helps students isolate the problems and figure out what happened.

"If one blew on the upper surface of a sheet of paper, one would intuitively expect it to be pushed down. However, due to the increased speed of air, air pressure on the upper surface decreases and the paper rises," Chklovski said.

Seeing concepts in action is what sets the workshops apart from the students' regular curriculum, Chklovski said.

"Now, I tend to think of all the concepts practically," said Jessica Coronado, a student at Foshay Learning Center.

Iridescent is currently funded entirely by the participating schools and after-school programs - Eagle Rock Elementary, Manual Arts High School, Braddock Drive Elementary School, Foshay Learning Center and Expanding Your Horizons.

Chklovski's workshops - which consist of five sessions each - are more than welcomed by participants.

"Our students are given the opportunity to explore aeronautical principles, insect and bird wing designs, and create and design their own gliders. We need more such sessions. We absolutely encourage such kinds of programs," said Darryl Newhouse, a teacher at Foshay Learning Center.

Chklovski said she started the program because she "always wanted to know why something is the way it is." As a student, she studied different birds to "unveil the mysteries behind flight."

Although she currently teaches all the workshops herself, she hopes to recruit more teachers through Iridescent and offer more topics, such as neuroscience, zoology and biomechanics.

"I would be thrilled if any graduate student who is doing research in an interesting field is keen on sharing his or her scientific interest with children," she said.

The workshops are an opportunity to get students excited about science and appreciate the rewards of curiosity early on, Chklovski said.

"It really gave a new angle to my thinking and also a firm base for me to enter into this research world," said Fidel Valencia, a student at Foshay Learning Center.