This article originally appeared in the spring 2015 Harker Quarterly.
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 upper school pals, who have come 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 Club for fun, interactive learning through a series of themed workshops. At their first visit more than a year ago, 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, Harker Preschool’s STEM specialist, came up with the win-win idea to pair members of Harker’s WiSTEM (Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) with the preschool children to meet regularly 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 come by, 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 stated 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.
On an afternoon in early December, seven members of WiSTEM (juniors Grace Cao, Alyssa Crawford, Shreya Mathur and Chandini Thakur; and seniors Allison Kiang, Daniela Lee and Nitya Mani) traveled to the preschool campus to work with students on a series of STEM activities related to life science and the human body.
“Today we are going to learn all about the human body,” Chetty informed the youngsters, welcoming them to the science lab and explaining that the WiSTEM Club members had planned various stations for their visit.
The first station covered the integumentary system, allowing the preschoolers to use a proscope (digital microscope) to examine things like hair, skin and freckles. The second station was on the skeletal system, where the youngsters met “Mr. Skelly” and participated in a “bone dance.” The third station, on the muscular system, allowed them 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. For station four, on the cardiovascular system, the children used a stethoscope to hear how their heart sounds before and after jumping, and were also able to view a dissected pig heart. Station five, on the digestive system, provided useful nutrition information as well as coloring pages of the digestive tract. The respiratory system was covered in station six, allowing students to work with a sensor and graph to determine their lung volume. And finally, station seven on the senses was all about optical illusions and refractions.
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.
Lending a helping hand was parent volunteer Tiffany Tuell. Her daughter, 4-year-old Lexington, said her favorite station was “the breathing one.” The preschooler especially enjoyed being able to use the lung volume sensor and spending time with “the big kids.”
Coming up in April, the next STEM Buddies event is slated to revolve around chemistry. Other prospective programs might cover such topics as environmental science, space science, explorations in light/dark, human physiology, anatomy and mathematics.
Previously, the WiSTEM Club put on a short musical for the preschool students about composting using worms (to reduce waste on the preschool campus). They also made posters about what worms eat. The children had the opportunity to hold and explore worms together during the session. Other stations included making recycled newspaper pots, planting pumpkin seeds, petting the rabbits in the Farm, and making corn husk dolls. Since that lesson, Stone and her students have been diverting food scraps to the worms, and even have a small worm “condo” in the STEM lab.
“The buddies program is such a clever idea,” said parent Tuell. “It makes STEM learning fun!”