What is a CSW?

nuts and boltsThere are four defining characteristics of a Community Science Workshop:

1) CSWs are in neighborhoods:  Each program maintains a permanent public space that is walking distance to low-income homes and schools, and is dense with science exhibits as well as tools and materials.  User-generated content and locally hired educators foster familiarity and agency for participants.

2) CSW programs are open-ended and student-driven:  As much as possible, students choose what they want to do and how they’re going to do it, what questions they want to ask and how they’re going to answer them.

3) CSWs are open-door: drop-in hours minimize barriers to participating youth and families, and a variety of other programs provide multiple entry points in time and space:  afterschool, during the day, on field trips to the CSW, and via mobile programs at rural locations.

4) CSWs strive to saturate their community with science:  working with schools, community-based organizations, housing projects, libraries, municipalities and parks as needed to transform a community’s experience of science education.

In addition to these defining characteristics, each of the Community Science Workshops has adopted their own combination of the following programs:


  • After School (site based); students from an after school program come to the CSW as part of the school’s after school schedule.
  • After School (school based); CSW staff transport materials to a school to provide part of their after school programming.
  • After School (outside agency based); CSW staff transport materials to an outside agency, providing programming to a group associated with the agency.  This agency could be a Boys and Girls club, a housing project, a library, etc.
  • Field Trips (at the site); schools bring students to the CSW during the school day.  This can be a singular event or an ongoing unit of trips.
  • Field Trips (to outside locations); CSW staff organize a trip, transporting students to a location of scientific interest and leading activities there (aquarium, waste water plant, beach, camping, digging for fossils, riding roller coasters, etc.)
  • Classroom Visits (at the schools); CSW staff go to schools during the school day.  This can be a singular event or an ongoing unit of trips
  • Collaboration with a School or District; CSW activities and programs are integrated into the entire school year, either for a particular age group or for schools as a whole.  Use of CSW materials, curriculum, and pedagogy is adopted as policy by the school or district.
  • Science Class (site based); a school brings a class of students regularly to the CSW during the school day and science class is conducted there – usually this program is ongoing throughout the school year, and activities at the CSW constitute part of the coursework.
  • Secondary Workshops; there is more than one permanent Workshop in a community.  A secondary Workshop is any location where the materials and tools stay on-site.
  • Satellite Sites; CSW staff transport materials and tools regularly to an outside location open on a drop-in basis to the public.
  • Summer School; students sign up for sessions during the summer.  They come every day to the CSW and are led in activities by the staff.
  • Family Science; an event specifically targeting families – can be at a school, at a CSW site, or at an outside location.  This can be ongoing or a one-time event.
  • Teacher Training; CSW staff train teachers and other educators in the Community Science Workshop model of education.  This can happen at the site, at schools, or at outside locations.
  • Community Events; one-time events to which CSW staff bring materials and exhibits, ie., Earth Day, Science Fairs, parades, etc.
  • Mobile Science Units; a vehicle that travels to different locations in the community, with CSW capabilities built in.  May support a Satellite site, Community Event or other program element above
Science Workshop goes Mobile!
Science Workshop goes Mobile!

Exhibits and Projects:

The scientific processes of observation and discovery are at the heart of any CSW activity, be it sewing a purse, re-wiring an electric car, comparing mammalian femurs, or playing with a bicycle wheel gyroscope.  You might find some of the following when you walk in the door to a CSW:

  • Electronics – including materials for building simple circuits, soldering, voltmeters, and exhibits such as Van de Graaf generators and oscilloscopes.
  • Welder and scrap metal for assembling chopper bikes, go-karts, and other projects.
  • Logic and topology puzzles, made in the Workshop or makeable there.
  • Magnets and electromagnets.
  • Sewing and needlework – machines, knitting, simple looms, a variety of cloth, etc.
  • Recycled wood and woodworking tools for building furniture, scooters, doghouses, and frames and bases for a variety of projects.
  • Ceramics – basic tools, throw wheel and kiln.
  • Biology exhibits, such as fossils, bones, animals (alive and dead), and plants.
  • Geology exhibits, with specimens of many kinds of rock and maps of local geologic formations.
  • Garden with planter boxes, indoor sprouting/growing areas, and/or plants in pots.
  • Bike repair tools and parts, and junked bikes that kids can fix up.
  • Microscopes with slides and other specimens to view.
  • Craft materials of all kinds – popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners, paint, etc.
  • Recycled materials of all kinds – bottles, cans, plastic containers, bags, film cans, pvc pipes, etc.
  • Basic power tools and hand tools for multiple uses – hot glue, saws, hammers, scroll saw, table saw, drill press, screwdrivers, cordless drills, vices and clamps, etc.
  • Light exhibit– different colored and shaped lenses, gels, and bulbs to experiment with light in a darkened room or box.
  • Physics exhibits, such as merry-go-rounds, gyroscopes, and earthquake tables.
  • Musical instruments, made by kids and the kind you buy at the store
  • Telescope and star maps

Interesting Junk