The past week at The New Century School was devoted to the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) Fair, and what an exciting, inquiry-filled week it was! This year’s was the biggest ever, with three classrooms participating—Dan McGonigal’s upper elementary students, Adriana Duprau’s lower elementary students, and even Teresa Jacoby’s K/1st students—each class taking a slightly different approach to their projects, but all loosely unified by the common theme of water.
Mr. McGonigal took the lead on this endeavor, as appropriate, given his specialization in this area. You may recall from a Meet the Teacher post last fall that he is part of the very first cohort in a pilot program at Towson University for STEM certification to earn the new Maryland State Department of Education endorsement, “Instructional Leader—STEM (Pre K‑6)” this spring.
He is passionate about the value of STEM teaching and with good reason. “STEM is an integrated instructional strategy—there are no borders or boundaries,” he said by way of introduction. STEM pursuits will ensure that students develop “21st-century skills”—those skills they need to navigate this exciting new era of globalization, connectivity, and continuous technological advancement. According to the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, these skills include “critical thinking, problem solving, communication, and collaboration,” which intersect with social and media literacy, among other critical disciplines. You will see how these features were implemented throughout the TNCS Stem Fair projects as well as how they employed their engineering mantra: Imagine, Plan, Create, Improve, and Ask.
The week started with the upper elementary presentations on a chosen problem facing the Chesapeake Bay and how to act as “better stewards of the environment” by addressing the problem, such as litter or erosion. Taking a very sophisticated approach, these students presented their projects to attending parents electronically. During project execution, in fact, they used technology in various ways to document their process, such as videotaping and recording details regularly via Glogster. Their “glogs” are akin to electronic journals. Mr. McGonigal said, “This was very much a project-based learning experience for the students, who were in charge of their own direction. I was there to help, prompt, and encourage along the way as much as they needed.”
Mrs. Duprau’s first- and second-graders presented their Life Cycle of a Plant projects on the following day inside the TNCS gymnasium. Their presentations took the more traditional approach with the trifold poster boards used by science fair presenters for decades. Note that these persistent, hard-working students took the “improve” part of the engineering design mantra very much to heart—be prepared to discreetly cover your inevitable chuckles if the kids are nearby. Scientists have feelings, too ;)!
Finally, on STEM Fair Day 3, Mrs. Jacoby’s kindergarteners and first-graders took over the stage. Not yet being the consummate presenters that their older colleagues are, they used a video directed and produced by Mrs. Jacoby and Señora Tyson to debut their work (there wasn’t a dry eye in the audience; the video is wonderful). Parents were then asked to direct specific questions to the students about their projects. Although this was the first year that kindergarteners participated in the STEM Fair, you will see that they held their own amazingly well!
Thank you to Mr. McGonigal and the other TNCS teachers who made this STEM Fair such an unqualified success! We are already excited for STEM Fair 2016!