By Briana Vannozzi
When you’re teaching tough subjects, like magnetic fields or center of gravity, hands-on is almost always the best approach. At Newark Public Schools, a couple thousand middle-schoolers are doing an intensive dive into the world of STEM — that’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics — for a new district wide program.
“It is a week where, in partnership with a marvelous organization called i2 Learning, we have 25 of our schools drop everything and do nothing but science, a hands-on critical thinking-oriented scientific experiment using a curriculum that was developed by a bunch of leading scientific educators including MIT,” said Newark Public Schools Superintendent Chris Cerf.
The inaugural Newark STEM week is a big hit so far. At the Oliver Street School students are working on a kinetic sculptures course. It’s one of three made available to participating schools.
“It’s completely focused on middle school, so they are very important ages for a whole host of reasons about when kids start either gaining interest or losing interest in STEM fields, and we’ve seen that,” said Ethan Berman, founder of i2 Learning.
Berman is the founder of i2, an education company that started this program partnering with schools. Each of the weeklong units are designed to get students and teachers working together to solve real-world problems.
“We went to training for about two, three days and learned all the activities. As adults we had to go through each day, like the marble run the magnetic field and all that. And then bring it into our classroom,” said Oliver Street School sixth grade teacher Krysten Faison.
“My favorite thing was the magnets because it seemed kind of cool trying to see how when the positive side and positive sides repel and there’s this little space in between them so they don’t want to connect to each other,” said sixth grade student Katerine Castaneda.
The students started the week with gears, mobiles and the physics of balance. They made a marble run. And they can’t get enough.
“I’ve always loved science and math, personally. It’s what I like so that made me want to do this this whole week,” said Cristan Ruiz, who’s in sixth grade.
“So what we learned from day one, from mobiles, we learned we have to have to find the center point to keep them in balance,” said sixth grader Nick Lala.
Newark hopes to expand the initiative to all of its middle schools next year along, with a robotics curriculum and a state-of-the-art tech lab.
“Absolutely love it. You know when you disguise learning as projects and fun activities students let their guards down and creativity flourishes, so they really, really, really enjoy it,” said Oliver Street School Principal Douglas Petty.
The longterm goal is to have a national STEM week so that for one week a year students here in Newark are working on the same projects as, say, students in Boston. They’ll communicate and collaborate just like engineers do today.