TEWKSBURY — The Baker-Polito administration has declared a first in the country STEM week, emphasizing the importance of science, technology, engineering and math in schools and encouraging exploration and innovation in these disciplines.
John F. Ryan Elementary School teachers Eileen Lindsey and Kim Hillson run the STEM initiative in the school, introducing fifth and sixth graders to concepts, problem solving, and process; skills critical for all careers and necessary career and college preparedness.
According to STEMWEEK.org, “STEM jobs and industries are vital to the Massachusetts economy, creating good jobs and a growing number of opportunities statewide as Massachusetts invests strongly in STEM industries.”
Massachusetts STEM week ran Oct. 21 - 25, and encompassed a large number of events all over the Commonwealth. Significant partnerships support the effort including universities, private businesses, technology and leadership councils and curriculum development agencies.
The Ryan School students participated in the STEM Showcase held on the last day of STEM week at the Reggie Lewis Track Center in Roxbury. Students worked together to solve real world problems. The challenges presented were focused on zero waste and were distributed by grade; K-2 food waste, grade 3-5 energy, grade 6-8 microplastics, and high schools focused on electronic waste.
Lindsey said, “we are a 5th and 6th grade school [so] we went with the option to develop a prototype to filter microplastics out of water.”
Lindsey explained that students began by filtering microplastics out of cosmetics (Irish Spring body wash) and researched how microplastics get into the water supply, why this is a problem and options to remove them. The prototype the students were required to develop had to be made of plastic waste.
The microplastic extractor, named Hedgehog, collects the microplastics on a screen on the head of the device, reminding students of a hedgehog.
“Our entire school took part in the challenge and four teams of students were selected to attend the showcase,” said Lindsey.
There were 60 teams in grades 6-8 and the Ryan’s 5th grade team was moved up to be in the competition, scoring a 3rd place berth. The curriculum for the challenge was written by Project Lead the Way, an organization focused on collaborative, hands-on experiential learning in the classroom.
Judges for the STEM Showcase came from all different companies, such as Dell, Medtronic, GE, Vecna Robotics, Gingko Bioworks, MassDEP, and more. The judges visited each group, asked questions and listened to students discuss how they made their prototypes. The judges also gave constructive feedback to the students.
Lindsey said, “It was a great experience for the kids to present in this environment.”
The students were praised for their solution but were also challenged to consider and anticipate failure points, such as impacts to other elements of the environment (like fish) which might be harmed by the device’s fan.
As their evaluator wrote, “Think safe, think big!”
Each member of the winning team from the Ryan won Celtics tickets. The group included Alyssa Flahive, Jake Cunha, Nathan Bettencourt, Andrew Viens, and Wyatt Holmes.