GSE news brief artwork.

Published July 20, 2023


Setting the wheels in motion

New STEMcyclists Summer Camp transforms STEM learning

Youth cyclist repairing a bike.

Noemi Waight, PhD, associate professor of learning and instruction at the University at Buffalo Graduate School of Education, recently established a new summer cycling program for 9th and 10th-grade students of color living in Buffalo. Offered for the first time in July 2022, the STEMcyclists Summer Camp—developed in collaboration with GoBike Buffalo and UB’s Science and Technology Entry Program (STEP)—sparked a transformation in STEM learning by providing students with the opportunity to explore the intersections of science, technology, engineering and mathematics through bicycles and bicycle riding.

Students in the program participated in cycling-related activities, including redesigning and rebuilding bikes, intended to facilitate a better understanding of how bikes work and what happens in our bodies while riding a bike—the biomechanics of bike riding. GoBike Buffalo provided the campers with technical bike expertise, bicycles, helmets and bike accessories, which the students brought home to keep after the program concluded.

“Our youth had this hands-on experience that allowed them to understand, one, the ways in which STEM is associated with bikes. And two, they are learning the anatomy of a bike and then rebuilding it and seeing it come together into this new, re-mixed product,” said Waight.

According to Waight, these experiences allow students to learn about forces, friction and tension—kinematics. “Some of the applications here are the mechanics of wheels, tire pressure and traction, gear ratios and so on,” Waight said. “In terms of engineering, students are exposed to engineering design principles and practices as it relates to bikes. Students learn about the enduring history of bikes and bike design over time. These concepts, which are aligned with the New York State science learning standards, provide a concrete context, culture and history for STEM teaching and learning.”

Alongside Ryan M. Rish, PhD, GSE associate professor of learning and instruction; GSE alumna Jennifer Tripp, PhD ’21; Sophie Wisoff, GoBike Buffalo’s education director and lead mechanical instructor; and East Side Bike Club’s Rodam Marks, Waight designed the one-week program’s curriculum to be anti-racist and culturally relevant, with a focus on engaging the students in STEM-related activities that will equip them with the necessary skills and knowledge to pursue careers in these fields.

Focused on assisting with the planning and implementation of the program, Rish reported that it was a joy to learn alongside youth as they gained knowledge and confidence when maintaining and safely riding bicycles.

“During the camp, we see changes in the ways youth view themselves as scientists, as mechanics, as cyclists and as members of their community,” Rish said. “Our hope is that the bikes we provide during the camp will lead to more riding and exploring of their neighborhoods and communities.”

Echoing the same hope, Waight was immediately encouraged by students’ responses to the activities: “They started to think about themselves, saying, ‘I didn’t think I could be an engineer, but now I did this. I can see myself as an engineer.’ And specifically, they were able to name mechanical engineering. And this feedback was from young women—our participants are 50% young women and 50% young men.”

Tripp, now a postdoctoral researcher in GSE’s Department of Learning and Instruction, has witnessed similar reactions from campers. “It has been rewarding to witness transformations that have occurred over the course of our program, where youth have also learned more about themselves and what they are capable of doing and becoming,” she said. “In their reflections, youth have said, ‘I’m a good mechanic,’ or girls who have initially stated that they were ‘previously not into engineering’ have come away thinking that mechanical engineering is interesting and want to explore it more. That is, engineering is now a possibility for them when it was not before STEMcyclists.”

The experiences and positive responses shared by the inaugural cohort of campers also confirmed that offering this program in Buffalo allowed for multi-layered learning opportunities.

“Buffalo is great for this kind of programming, of course, because we want STEM inclusion… We want them to be able to experience science and engineering in informal kinds of ways but alternative kinds of ways. Secondly, we also thought about Buffalo as one of the most segregated cities in the country, where there are these consciously and unconsciously built barriers,” said Waight.

“Our students on the East Side will sometimes say, ‘Oh, we can’t go there,’ or ‘We’re not allowed to go there.’ And sometimes, it’s just crossing a street. So, it’s being able to say, ‘Let’s cross the street with our bikes. Let’s cross the street because there are two worlds occurring here,’” Waight continued. “How do we desegregate spaces? It’s allowing people to be able to go back and forth.”

The program will continue this summer from July 24-31, allowing a new cohort of campers to explore science in this innovative and meaningful way.

“I think our young people are as much learners as they can also be advocates, asking, ‘Why don’t we do science this way? Why don’t we do engineering this way?’ They can pass this on to their teachers,” she said.