This article originally appeared in the summer 2016 Harker Quarterly.
Thanks to several innovative buddies programs, Harker Preschool STEM students are becoming increasingly connected to the larger school community. The various programs bring “big kids” from the lower, middle and upper school campuses together with preschoolers for shared learning.
Math Buddies, a partnership with grade 5 math students, and Eco Buddies, an ecological program with grade 8 students, are both new this year. Meanwhile, STEM Buddies, a collaboration with the upper school’s WiSTEM club, has been happening for a number of years, serving as a role model for the new student mentoring programs.
On March 14, as math enthusiasts around the world celebrated Pi Day, students at Harker united in a math-based celebration of their own called Math Buddies. Math Buddies is a new partnership between Harker’s preschool and grade 5 students. The group’s inaugural effort, a math fair, was held in the afternoon at the preschool’s STEM lab.
The lower school big buddies presented hands-on math activities at various stations they had designed for Harker’s 4-year-old preschoolers and transitional kindergarten students.
“Pi Day was made especially memorable for students at the preschool,” said Robyn Stone, the preschool’s STEM specialist. “Lower school students brought their passion and enthusiasm for math to introduce pi and other mathematics concepts to our young learners.”
In math circles, March 14 (3.14) is known as Pi Day in honor of the number representing the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. “So, it was a natural date for us to select,” Stone added. Working in small groups under the guidance of Eileen Schick, lower school math lab teacher, 20 fifth graders developed hands on, developmentally appropriate math games and activities for their younger pals.
They also committed six lunch periods to creating posters and working on a script for how to engage with preschoolers. They then brought math activities (incorporating math concepts such as algebra, geometry, measurement, number/ operation and data analysis) to the preschool through themed stations including height kites, pattern block design, beading bracelets, number bean bag toss, Lego towers, fraction circles, color chip coding and match the shape.
At the end of the program, each child received a “Math Buddies” sticker and a goody-bag filled with math prizes. Transitional kindergarten student Julia Ho recalled that her favorite activity was “making a pattern bead bracelet.”
Meanwhile, 4-year-old Zayd Ahmed said he “liked the bean bag game.” Other preschool students cited making a height kite, playing with Legos and dice, and making pattern b ck flowers as their favorite Math Buddies activities.
Their big buddies, meanwhile, said they enjoyed traveling to the Union campus and spending time with the young mathematicians.
“I think this is very fun and educational for young kids and I also think it would befun to continue next year,” said Keesha Gondipalli, grade 5.
“This was an amazing experience. It made math social and super fun!” agreed fifth grader Sara Bhowmick. Schick said she was especially proud of the effort the fifth graders made to connect with their math buddies. “All their hard work, creativity, initiative and dedication created a truly enriching, educational event. However, I was most impressed by how engaged the buddies were with the preschoolers. They addressed each preschooler by name, got down to eye-level with them, and invited them to participate. In other words, I could not ask for a better result!” said Schick.
On Earth Day, April 22, the entire Harker community celebrated by wearing green and engaging in environmental activities across all four campuses. At Harker Preschool, students used the occasion to launch a fun and educational new preschool/middle school program called Eco Buddies.
The largest buddies event yet, Eco Buddies was open to the entire preschool and united more than 50 eighth graders with 120 preschoolers. The event also marked the first time the preschool’s 3-year-olds had the opportunity to meet with students from another Harker campus.
“Eco Buddies is unique because it is a program for all of our preschoolers, even the youngest ones,” said Robyn Stone.
During the event, a collaborative effort between Stone and grade 8 biology teacher Kristen Morgensen ’93, the eighth graders presented hands-on ecology activities to their younger preschool pals. “This whole experience meant so much on all levels – as a teacher getting to share the magic of our preschool with her own students, as a parent getting to watch her own child learn from the big kids, and sharing the magic of our middle school students with the preschool community as a whole,” said Morgensen, who, in addition to being an alumna, is also a current preschool parent (3-year-old Teagan).
Both Morgensen and Stone thought Earth Day was a perfect day to launch the new Eco Buddies program, since events are held around the world to demonstrate support for environmental protection. “As a Green Committee member, I knew Harker was aiming for a school wide Earth Day celebration. Since Kristen and I are both science teachers, it seemed natural for us to collaborate on an Earth Day program,” said Stone.
“I wasn’t sure how many grade 8 students would make the commitment. They amazed me with how many volunteered and how excited they have been to participate!” recalled Morgensen. The big buddies worked hard to create posters and activities for the different hands-on stations, which were grouped by ecological themes such as animal care, solar energy use, composting, wind energy, plant germination and water conservation.
“It was really fun!” said Henry Wiese, grade 8. “It was really cool to see the preschoolers make connections between how real cars and solar toy cars move.”
Classmate Vedanth Sundaram agreed, noting, “It was really fun to watch the kids learn from the worm sock puppet about what goes in the green (wet) and blue (dry) [recycling] bins.”
Reflecting back on the day, transitional kindergartner Danya Arun said, “I liked making the bird house.”
“I liked filtering the dirty water and making it clean,” added classmate Hannah Micchelli. Meanwhile, 4-year-old Aria Mehra reported enjoying “sprouting radish seeds.”
STEM Buddies days at Harker Preschool are always special, with students proudly donning buddy badges and taking turns filing excitedly into the science lab. There they have the unique opportunity to visit and interact with their upper school pals, who visit to share their love of all things STEM.
Passing along the joy of science, technology, engineering and mathematics is the goal behind Harker’s innovative STEM Buddies program, which teams the school’s littlest learners with upper school students from the WiSTEM (Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) club for fun, interactive learning through a series of themed workshops.
At their first visit in 2013, club members presented each preschool student with a special button to wear during their time together. Anita Chetty, upper school science department chair, and Robyn Stone came up with the win-win idea to pair members of WiSTEM with the preschoolers for hands-on STEM exploration.
Since then, the STEM Buddies workshops, held several times throughout the year for the 4- and 5-year-olds, have been a huge hit. Each activity is focused around a particular topic or strand of STEM. The younger students are excited to have their big buddies visit, while the teens are gaining confidence about sharing and teaching complicated knowledge in ways that are simple to understand. “This collaborative opportunity is aligned with WiSTEM’s mission to spread the love of STEM,” reported Chetty.
According to Stone, the workshops have proven to be the perfect fit for the preschool’s STEM specialty class, offering a balance between child-directed exploratory learning and WiSTEM-directed activities. WiSTEM’s mission is to foster female students’ interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, to provide role models and mentors in those fields, and to educate the community about gender issues in the sciences.
The club, which Chetty advises, sponsors guest lecturers, holds technical workshops for the Harker community led by female scientists, and creates a network of female mentors – including Harker alumnae – working in STEM fields.
Last year, Harker Quarterly observed seven members of WiSTEM (current seniors Grace Cao, Alyssa Crawford, Shreya Mathur and Chandini Thakur and 2015 graduates Allison Kiang, Daniela Lee and Nitya Mani) as they traveled to the preschool campus to work with students on a series of STEM activities related to life science and the human body.
At one station on the skeletal system, the youngsters met an artificial skeleton named “Mr. Skelly” and participated in a “bone dance.” Another station featured the muscular system, allowing the students to use a sensor to squeeze a muscle and determine how much force it exerted, as well as examine the muscles of a chicken wing. Yet another station, on the cardiovascular system, allowed the children to use a stethoscope to hear how their heart sounds before and after jumping; they were also able to view a dissected pig heart.
Wearing a white WiSTEM T-shirt, club member Cao was working in the muscle station, measuring and graphing her younger buddies’ grip strength. She said she found the STEM Buddies event to be very enjoyable and the children to be outgoing and active participants. “I feel that the program is going really well. Teaching and interacting with preschoolers is a fun experience!” she added.
Other STEM Buddies events have revolved around chemistry, environmental science, space science, explorations in light/dark, human physiology, anatomy and mathematics. The WiSTEM Club also put on a short musical for the preschool students about composting using worms (to reduce waste on the preschool campus).