Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy

To ignite and nurture creative, ethical, scientific minds that advance the human condition.

Mini-Grants Spur Innovation

Geometric Sculpture and Outreach Project, Microscopes on the Go, Educator Energizers, FUSION Career Webinars and Enhancing Learning of Chinese By Using Interactive Software are just some of the new, innovative mini grant projects this year developed by IMSA faculty and staff.  

Originally funded by Intel, the IMSA Innovation Mini Grants will continue for a second year thanks to the support of the IMSA Fund for Advancement of Education.

IMSA students in Dr. Vince Matsko's Polyhedra and Geometric Sculpture class learn how to design abstract geometric sculptures.
The above images illustrate how a Chinese character (fire) has changed over time from their earliest known  pictographic forms, to the versions used today. 

In all, 13 innovative teaching and learning projects will benefit teaching and learning at IMSA and throughout Illinois, thanks to the vision, leadership and commitment of IMSA staff.

IMSA Mathematics Faculty Member Dr. Vince Matsko’s Geometric Sculpture and Outreach Project, will teach students how to design abstract geometric sculptures from start to finish using mathematics and technology.  

"In this project, IMSA students in my Polyhedra and Geometric Sculpture class will use mathematics and technology to facilitate the creation of art," Matsko said.  "Specifically, students will learn to design abstract geometric sculptures from idea to a final project within the course of a few months,” Matsko said.  “They will design their sculpture using mathematical computer software programs, and then use the ShopBot in the Robotics Lab to machine the pieces."

In addition, Dr. Matsko would like to disseminate this to other students and teachers.  “I would like to create instructional videos about building polyhedra and other related structures with the eventual hope of creating an online course.”

For more information on Dr. Matsko’s Polyhedra and Geometric Sculpture class, visit

IMSA Mandarin Chinese Faculty Member Michelle Wei-Cheng will use her grant to enhance teaching and learning of Chinese using the web-based, interactive software “Magical Chinese Characters” and Chinese podcasts.

"I have always been looking for new technology to improve my teaching and to enhance student engagement and productivity," Cheng said.  "This new interactive software will help students to understand the evolution of Chinese characters and recognize the structural patterns within them," she added.  "Also, because Chinese is a tonal language, listening to the daily Chinese podcasts of native speakers will help to improve their listening comprehension and oral proficiency."

In addition, Cheng said she would like to share the results with other teachers at a future Midwest Chinese Teachers’ Alliance workshop.  

Program Specialist for Statewide Student Initiatives and IMSA Class of 1999 Graduate Julie Dowling wrote two winning grant proposals, Microscopes on the Go and ALLIES Goes Electronic.  Each one focuses on improving teaching and learning in STEM education throughout the state.  Dowling said while the proposals took time, the benefits are tangible, instant and measurable.

“Many young students that we work with do not have the opportunity to use microscopes until they reach high school, if at all,” Dowling said.  “By providing this opportunity earlier, we hope to open up a whole new world to the students.”

Dowling said having microscopes while ‘on the road’ also allows for more in-depth learning of the IMSA curriculum.

“For example, during the past two years we have had curriculum for summer programs that ideally needed the use of microscopes for topics like mitosis, meiosis, hair analysis, and soil analysis to name a few,” Dowling said.  “Seeing it under a microscope provides a reality to what we discuss. There is a depth and appreciation of science when you can see things first hand and not through worksheets with rough pictures.”

In addition, Dowling said her project unexpectedly benefitted pre-service teachers of mathematics and science involved in IMSA’s Teacher Candidate Institutes (TCIs)

“We quickly discovered that a majority of the pre-service teachers themselves did not know how to use a microscope or were not comfortable with using them,” she said.  “The Kids Institute has the unique opportunity to introduce both students and teachers to technology and provide them with a safe environment in which to learn about microscopes and the world of opportunities and experiences that they provide.”

In another mini-grant project, IMSA Educator Energizers provide no-cost, drop-in ‘teacher fairs’ through IMSA’s Field Offices in Chicago and Metro East for all educators.  During these events, representatives from museums, colleges, universities, IMSA and other organizations showcase classroom activities that are classroom-ready and can be used the next day. Also, exhibitors share information about a wide range of offerings for teachers and students in the local area.