J. Taylor Finley Middle School seventh graders love science, technology, engineering and math. Need proof? More than 100 of them are participating in an after school enrichment program that will meet weekly throughout the year.
Every Finley seventh grader was invited to join the fun. The program meets on Wednesday afternoons. “There are three sessions, so all students are able to sign up for one session,” Assistant Superintendent Beth McCoy said.
Huntington science teacher Matthew Liguori leads the program. His department colleagues Keith Miller, Judy Pazienza and Matthew Perlongo are providing instruction. Ms. McCoy called the initiative an “exciting STEM opportunity” and the Finley seventh graders aren’t about to disagree.
The Finley STEM enrichment program will include a robotics component.
“The program allows students to engage in hands on activities in the area of science, technology and mechanics,” Ms. McCoy said. “They will develop skills in mathematics, engineering and computing to complete different activities each week, including rocketry, robotics, 3D printing, forensics and coding.”
The initiative seeks to develop student interest in STEM learning activities. Teachers will work with participants to build their capabilities to productively engage in STEM studies.
Some of the activities the seventh graders will devote time to include building a wind turbine, construction of maglev cars, vinyl cutting and index card race cars.
“This program is exciting because it involves a different skillset than traditional science lab classes,” District Director of STEM Jill Johanson said. “We aim to teach students to plan first, before diving into a project. There is only minimal direction given by the adults for each activity so the students are responsible for working with their peers to determine the best way to proceed. There are no ‘right’ answers for them to work towards.”
After seven hours of classes on a regular school day the Finley seventh graders participating in the STEM enrichment program still have plenty of energy remaining to take on a few more intellectual challenges.
The Finley tech room is the place to be as the space gets converted into a science wonderland featuring rockets, robots, 3D printers, hurricane houses, student built wind turbines, computer programming and even a forensic investigation.
“We’re looking forward to our largest year yet as the program will now be offered to the entire seventh grade class,” said Mr. Liguori, an earth science and physics teacher who has been involved in the initiative for the past five years. “We have many exciting and challenging new projects for the students to work on this year.”
The seventh graders are fascinated by every aspect of modern day science. “Hey seventh graders, do you want to watch a soda bottle reach for the sky?” asked Ms. Pazienza rhetorically. “Or how about racing a LEGO robot? Or even making your own mini fidget spinner? If you said yes, then you want to be part of Finley’s STEM after school class.”
The program kicked off with excited students building Lego race cars and explorers on the first day. “I love science,” Edwin Franco Duran said. “I want to be a doctor when I grow up.” The seventh grader is particularly enthusiastic about the forensics investigation segment of the initiative.
A group of young ladies working together were happily chatting about their race cars and were excited to compete against the boys. “This is fun,” Emma Hannigan said. “I love building with LEGOs.”
Ms. Johanson has been busy organizing the program, obtaining materials for it and refining the curriculum with the science teachers involved in delivering instruction.
Several weeks of classes will focus on engineering challenges as students work to solve a problem by building something. Some of the projects will include:
• Rocketry – building and launching a rocket out of a two-liter soda bottle.
• Hurricane house – building a structure that can withstand high winds.
• LEGO robotics – building and programming LEGO robots to complete an obstacle course.
• Wind turbine – building a wind turbine that can lift as many weights as possible.
Some of the activities involving creativity/artistry with computers with include:
• Coding – students will code and play their own video game.
• Vinyl cutter – students will design and cut their own stickers.
• 3D printing – students will learn 3D design on the computer and then print their designs.
A segment on forensics will see students solving a fictional crime using several techniques, including blood typing, fingerprinting and hair/fiber analysis.
If ever a program was hands-on it is this one for the Finley seventh graders participating in the initiative. “Designing and building something and then testing it also builds resilience in the face of mistakes or failure,” Ms. Johanson said. “Sometimes the best looking and maybe even best planned designs perform poorly and so we need to remember to take the information we learn when we test our designs and improve upon them with the next iteration.”