PISEC and the Fifth Dimension

PISEC was founded on the core principles of the Fifth Dimension (5D) afterschool programming model, but focuses on building physics interest and identity for all participants.1 5D is a sociocultural model intended to improve general computer literacy through the use of technology, social interaction and play in an imaginative setting. Critical to the implementation of the 5D model is the concept of "social-ecological" context.  Where many outreach programs focus largely on the interactions between experts and members of the public, 5D design (and PISEC, by extension) focus on several layers of context, from the interpersonal to the institutional.  In PISEC's case, the program has been designed from the top down to embrace the idea that mentors are not "giving" science to student participants, but are engaging in authentic partnership in the context of the community and culture created by the participants, their teachers, and administrators at PISEC partner sites.  In engaging in this authentic partnership, PISEC also draws heavily upon the idea of the "zone of proximal development."2  PISEC activities are designed to facilitate opportunities both for students to explore science with more experienced peers and to contribute meaningfully to the shared pursuit of mastery with their mentors.

Excitement, Empowerment, Enlightenment

PISEC's philosophy of engagement can be summarized by the three words excitement, empowerment, and enlightenment.  Through engaging students in fun, eye-opening physics activity design to foster excitement, PISEC hopes to allow students to explore the idea that science is an active, living, world in which they can make choices, take control, and participate fully as equal members.  By focusing program design on empowering students to choose their own path based on their own preferences and interests, PISEC strives to reinforce the notion that students can (and in some cases, must) excercise agency and imagine themselves as active participants in their scientific growth.  And, throughout the entire process of partnership and inherent in ever element of design, PISEC's objective is to facilitate enlightenment -- expanding horizons for students and volunteers alike, and promoting cultural change at both the personal and institutional levels, toward the end of a more inclusive, diverse scientific community.


At primary schools, PISEC applies the core principles of the 5D framework to exciting, collaborative exploration of physics concepts. Students engage in authentic physics practice through engagement with inquiry-based curricula designed to promote student scientific ownership and agency over their learning. Curricula are comprised of physics activities presented within a game-like environment that offers choices of progression and focus, including opportunities for students to create their own experiments. Drawing on a construct from 5D, PISEC employs the narrative that volunteers are sent by an entity known as "Mission Control" in order to de-emphasize traditional power dynamics and emphasize the idea that mentors and students are peers and co-participants in the program (which is being overseen by "Mission Control").  Students interact with Mission Control by reporting their experimental findings through science notebooks and through recorded video communication.  Learn more about PISEC's primary school programming.

At high schools, PISEC focuses largely on merging 5D philosophy with students' traditional classroom experiences.  Through project-based, goal-oriented curricula, PISEC mentors advise students as they engage in authentic science practice and explore aspects of career science: design, construction, experimentation, communication, etc.  Though the mediational means and contextual implementation are different from PISEC's primary school offerings, PISEC's high school programming continues to draw on the 5D paradigm through its heightened emphasis on collaborative scientific exploration and mentorship based on the modeling of real career science.  Students will engage in pedagogical leadership by designing their own lessons for younger PISEC participants, practice scientific communication through participation in symposia, and gain mentorship experience of their own.  Learn more about PISEC's high school programming.

PISEC also engages in a number of other community-based endeavors, and is constantly developing new offerings based on the 5D model.  Learn more about PISEC's other informal education work.

1. M. Cole, The Fifth Dimension: An After-School Program Built on Diversity, Russell Sage Foundation, 2006
2. Vygotsky, L. S. Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1978.