SILVER LAKE/HALIFAX– On Monday, April 11, and Tuesday, April 12, students from Silver Lake Regional High School (SLRHS) STEM club (an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) travelled to Halifax Elementary School to tutor first, second, third and fourth graders in that school’s STEM/STEAM club (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) in the science of making home-made ice-cream (and, of course, understanding the principles of heat transfer and states of matter).
Halifax Elementary School kindergarten teacher Lisa Whitney joined other colleagues from the club that she advises in the collaborative project, along with a colleague from SLRHS, overseeing 56 first and second graders on Monday and 54 third and fourth graders on Tuesday as well as a group of high-schoolers as the older students taught the younger ones how to make their own ice-cream, and the scientific principles behind ice-cream production.
According to Whitney, the STEM/STEAM concept has “exploded” in the last few years, as the number of jobs in those fields have grown. Their stated goal is to encourage and show students that they can go into these fields. At HES, the ‘a’ was added to signify “arts” to the STEM club because the arts and sciences are closely related and early-childhood educators are often focused on creative activities. Whitney says that while she loves to get students excited about science, many of the club’s activities relate to the arts in one way or another, and the subjects are not mutually exclusive.
“Educators need to show all students that it’s possible for them to enter STEM fields,” she said.
When asked if the STEM/STEAM subjects are more important than other subjects, or if the clubs promote those subjects over others, Whitney responded by noting that the STEM subjects are not more important than others, stating that the “arts, languages, and social sciences are huge parts of a student’s education… I think the important thing to demonstrate is there is an explosion of STEM careers and showing more students that they can enter these fields.”
Whitney also responded to a question of whether the STEM/STEAM clubs target or recruit students that in the past have not traditionally gone into these fields, such as women, for example.
“[T]he short answer is “no”,” she said. “[I want all] students to realize and to have the confidence that they can participate in STEM activities, even if they don’t think they are good [at], say math. But more importantly, it’s the skills that they are working at– students are learning what they can do when they are asked to imagine, create, design, experiment, problem-solve, persevere, collaborate, and have fun. These are important skills for any student to learn.”
Whitney says that she and colleague Laura Piccirilli, a Title-One reading tutor, started the STEM club in January of this year, and used kits from a company in Shrewsbury to begin working on projects with students. This ran for six weeks, and after that, due to the club’s popularity, the two added the “a” for “arts”, started creating their own kits, and have continued to run the club on their own.
Whitney’s favorite part of advising the club? “[I] love science, and… love watching students participate and get excited about hands-on science activities…[t]he students bring so much energy and enthusiasm to the club that it’s been a lot of fun!” she said.
She went on to note, “What’s great about the club is [that] we are not doing a lot of direct teaching– we teachers are giving the students a little bit of knowledge and then letting them explore and learn on their own. I love watching students figure things out, because projects may not always be easy, but they can always be rewarding in some way.”
The HES STEM/STEAM team instructors are Whitney, Piccirilli, Linda Ford, Jen Belsky, JoAnn Croce, and Elaine Fryer. The more than 100 Halifax Elementary School students who participated are too numerous to name.
The Silver Lake Regional High School students involved last week were Will Parker (President of the SLRHS STEM Club), Hope Moran (Vice President of the SLRHS STEM Club), Glen Birch, Teddi Moskowitz, Bryn Hooper, Caitlin Scully, Joshua Towne, Hayden Wechter, John McCarthy, and Patrick McCarthy. Their club advisor is Vivi Liousas.
Whitney also wished to especially thank middle-schooler Mark Piccirilli who has volunteered at all 19 sessions of the HES STEM/STEAM club to date.