Teen Interns Refurbish FOSS Modules in Oakland

Sonnie Dae, Elementary Science Specialist, Oakland Unified School District
March 30, 2015 | Materials Management

Top Image: On a field trip, the interns enjoy the view from the Lawrence Hall of Science. Working together at the OUSD SMART Center, they learn the value of teamwork and collaboration. Photo courtesy of Sonnie Dae and Oakland Unified School District.

During the summer, the main room of the SMART (Science Materials And Resources for Teachers) Center in Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) is transformed into a hub for FOSS kit refurbishment. You can hear the chatter and laughter of teenage interns, the thud of boxes placed on stations and carts, the rhythmic sound of various objects being dropped in bins as they are sorted, and sounds from the occasional mishaps—sounds which are uniquely FOSS—metals disks clanging as they drop and roll and plastic cups hitting the floor and scattering.

The Internship Process

The interns are participants in the Exploring College and Career Options (ECCO!) Work Experience Education (WEE) Summer Program through the College and Career Readiness Office of the Oakland Unified School District. The students receive 10 elective credits, a paid stipend, and real work experience. The SMART Center is one of the more than 45 sites across the San Francisco Bay Area that hosts interns in the summer. From this program, students gain work experience and develop skills that will help them be successful in college and the workplace. Once students have selected host sites from the list that interest them and are aligned to their career goals, they must them contact the site and submit the résumés and cover letters that they have created.

Student examining box contents

Intern Vickie examines the contents of Mixtures and Solutions Box C during summer refurbishment. Photo courtesy of Sonnie Dae and Oakland Unified School District.

Students interested in an internship at the SMART Center attend a group interview, during which they review the job description and workplace expectations, receive a tour of the facility, and are asked a series of questions. Once selected, students receive an orientation and on-the-job training. During their SMART Center internship, the students receive information about careers in science, teaching, and college preparation—they learn about the various local science institutions, they strengthen their science content knowledge, and they learn about their rights and responsibilities as employees. Students develop skills in time management, attention to detail, workplace safety, self-advocacy, and interpersonal and communication skills. Students are also given the opportunity and the challenge to bring innovations to the refurbishment process and use critical thinking to improve efficiency. Additionally, students develop their leadership skills by serving as crew leader. This position rotates to each intern weekly, and they are responsible for pulling materials needed for the current kits, copying inventory sheets and labels, and serving as liaison by conveying the needs and concerns from the floor to the supervisor.

Interns choose to participate in the SMART Center internship because they have an interest in the fields of science or education. The interns often express that the most challenging aspects are dealing with the repetitive nature of the job that requires being indoors at a workstation for long hours and learning to manage their time and develop efficient processes. The biggest gain for interns is most often in their communication skills. They must learn to work in a diverse environment and communicate with those who have different perspectives and experiences from their own. Many interns reflect that they had little hands-on science in their elementary years and enjoy the idea that they are making this possible for current elementary students. They feel that they are supporting teachers and students with science instruction by ensuring that all the materials they need are in the kit. They really have a sense of pride about their role in making science possible for the elementary students. They feel like celebrities sometimes when teachers come in to return kits and praise them highly!

The SMART Center Setup

The typical day for the interns start at 8:30 am during June, July, and August, while most of their classmates are sleeping in. Several days are spent refurbishing each box of each kit, depending on the number of items enclosed. Eight workstations occupy the center of the room from wall to wall, each with an ergonomic chair and a supply bin containing frequently used items, such as masking tape, a black permanent marker, labels, masks, gloves, aprons, and more. On every table is a scale used to save time by weighing sets of items rather than counting them, as well as battery testers, stacks of inventory forms, and a trash can and recycling bin. Posted in the room are tips and measurements and specific tasks for the current kit being refurbished, a check of list with names of all 18 kits in order of refurbishment, files with inventory forms for all 18 kits, labels of all sorts (such as labels needed to replace the FOSS logo in grade level colors and to denote Box A, B, C), a tally chart of daily kits completed by interns, and a timer for breaks. Items needed for the kits line the counter on the east wall and the floor, as well as collection containers for various items (such as spent batteries and lightbulbs headed to recycling). There are stations for sorting and bagging items like element tiles, test objects, and minerals. Two carts are stacked with boxes—one to be refurbished (Coming In), the other with boxes that have been refurbished (Going Out). Many times a day, each cart is filled and emptied as they travel from warehouse to work floor and back again.


Each of the 3,600 boxes refurbished during the 40 days of summer rotates from the "Coming In" cart to the "Going Out" cart. Photo courtesy of Caleb Cheung and Oakland Unified School District.

The feeling to me in the SMART Center is that of an assembly line with repetitive motions and fast-paced movement. Often it brings to mind fairy tale stories of elves at work in their workshop happily bantering yet keen on efficiency and completion of tasks.

Each summer, the interns refurbish 3,600 boxes from an inventory of over 925 items, benefitting over 50 elementary schools, 900 classrooms, and 26,000 students. After the kits have been refurbished, they are staged on the warehouse floor to be delivered to the schools before the first day of school in the fall. Two times during the year, the kits are rotated so that each teacher receives a Life Science, Physical Science, and Earth Science module for 11 weeks. This work is important because it ensures that every teacher in the district has the materials that she or he needs so her or his students can complete their science investigations, make observations, analyze data, and then make claims and evidence and draw conclusions just like real scientists. It helps students learn how to learn. It sparks their curiosity and passion and can catapult them on a pathway into a science career.