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From tessellations to robots, catapults to seismographs, the world of STEM reached the fingertips (and well into the palms) of our third and fourth graders – and their parents – at our first Lower School Passport to STEM Night.

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First conceived by Lower School Science teacher Katie Schlicht as an evening of hands-on science, math, technology, and engineering challenges that parents could complete with their children, STEM Night’s success was due to a team of faculty – the “STEM Crew” – including Mrs. Schlicht, third grade teachers Leslie Lemma and Katie Chuchul, fourth grade Math/Science teacher Mariya Goldfarb, LS and MS Computer and Robotics teacher Clare Nesfield, LS Math Specialist Julia Burt, Forest Educator Alana Kessler, LS Librarian Kristyn Dorfman, Lower School Dean of Students Fina Cassara, and Director of Technology Ken Ambach.

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Testing skills of problem-solving, analysis and engineering design, as well as opening doors of curiosity and creativity, the participating faculty designed a host of STEM activities that expanded critical thinking for children and adults alike.


“We try to integrate STEM into many different spaces,” shared Mrs. Schlicht at the start of the program. “We host a lot of engineering challenges during Gathering when our Worship Buddies get together, during project based learning within core academic subjects, as well as in Arts and our Forest Program,” she said.

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A small group of our Lower School 4th grade leaders welcomed families with their own particular affinities for STEM. “It’s important to have STEM activities because it teaches creativity,” said Kiera, who is looking forward to learning more about geology in Middle School. “I’m building robots and learning how to code in Computer Science,” shared Amir. “It’s important to learn how to use technology in everyday life,” he added, while pointing, “A good STEM challenge has both a problem and a solution.”

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To kick off the evening, each family received a specially designed Passport to guide them from classroom to classroom. The passport served as both a map and a visual representation of completed activities through a series of stamps. 

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“We wanted to highlight all the STEM that we do regularly in school,” said Mrs Schlicht. “We had so much fun planning and creating the activities for the students – testing them out ourselves!”

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The various STEM challenges emphasized concepts in physics, math, and technology with activities including “Buoyancy and Boat Building,” a “Marshmallow and Toothpick Tower Engineering Challenge,” “Binary Code Puzzle,” “Microscopic Nature Photography,” and several others. Both parents and their children were invited to “drive” robots, newly built by Fourth graders in their inaugural Robotics unit, on a specially built table. Using iPads, drivers practiced lifting items up and putting them down in another area of the table, including moving fuel cells toward a rocket ship. “The next thing students will do is to learn how to program their robots to perform tasks autonomously,” said Mrs. Nesfield.

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As families flowed in and out of classrooms, children and their parents took equal turns analyzing, predicting, measuring, and engineering. “It was really well-organized and such a great view into our kids’ lives at school,” said fourth-grade parent Rebecca Lawton Flatters. “The passports were such a clever idea for marking our movements around the activities and I loved learning about tessellation, robotics, and seismographs!”

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In the “Catapult Construction,” families studied the phenomenon of energy conversion, while a bracelet-making activity exposed students to the Binary Code. Mathematical topics like predicting fact fluency were highlighted in “Multiplication and Division Bump,” and two jars of lifesavers and chocolate kisses introduced 3rd and 4th graders to the idea of developing hypotheses, area estimating, and guessing unknown quantities.

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“It’s so helpful for parents to experience hands-on what their children are doing every day and see how much joy their child takes from that activity,” echoed Mr. Ambach. “Some of the challenges we had tonight may be things adults have never done,” he added.

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The concept of iteration was a theme that was on display throughout the evening. “Whether it’s in the experience of writing code and learning that the instructions you have given to a computer or robot do not work and you have to rewrite the code and keep trying and trying until it works or attempting multiple tests and averaging your results – that failing and trying again is such an important skill,” said Mr. Ambach.

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“3rd and 4th Grade STEM Night is a perfect example of what happens when academic rigor, community, and collaboration come together," said Lower School Principal Dot Woo. "A compelling evening of hands-on and joyful learning, our third and fourth graders led their parents through a variety of activities rooted in creative problem-solving, engineering, scientific and mathematical analysis," she added. "Our students were not only proud to partner alongside their parents for each activity but were able to show true mastery of concepts, which always emanates from teaching others."

Photography by Margaret Pegno/Friends Academy

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