Scores of children descended on Davis School late Thursday afternoon. They solved riddles, devised launchers, built towers, navigated a maze, designed tools, linked paper chains, evaluated states of matter, solved problems, had fun, and learned – all before dark.
Davis School’s Family STEM Night was a destination not only for the kindergarteners and first- and second-graders who spend their days there, but also for more than two dozen Bedford High School students serving as volunteers at a dozen stations in the gymnasium, cafeteria, and library.
For more than 20 years, STEM has been the acronym representing four interrelated academic disciplines: science, mathematics, engineering, and technology. Thursday’s event provided exposure to all four, with simple and engaging activities designed for kids with guidance from the volunteers, parents, and other caregivers.
“When we first started planning for tonight, our hope was to bring together community members to have fun and engage in different STEM activities together, and we felt we achieved that,” said Anne Pumphrey, math coordinator for the elementary grades, who directed Thursday’s STEM Night with Kevin Smaldone, science coordinator for kindergarten through second grade.
“We wanted to create a space where students from multiple levels could come together around ideas, questions, curiosities, and hands-on experiences,” Smaldone said. “We wanted students and their ideas to be what shined most last night, and I think we saw that come through in a lot of different ways.”
Among those different ways were:
- Marshmallow towers. Young builders punctured mini-marshmallows with toothpicks, and their engineering skills resulted in some imaginative structures;
- “Catapult Catch.” Each participant received a kit with some basic items – a paper cup, Popsicle sticks, an elastic band. The students used those pieces to put together launchers capable of propelling small stuffed animals.
- “Breakout boxes.” Only the correct solutions to math problems would reveal the combination required to open each briefcase containing the solution to a word problem.
- Oobleck. This simple combination of corn starch and water (the word emanates from a Dr. Seuss book) becomes a “non-Newtonian fluid, fluid that acts like a solid and a liquid at the same time.”
- Alka-Seltzer balloons, pattern block puzzles, Sphero maze, toy boat design, and rainbow waters.
Children and adults clustered around the stations, or broke away to find space on the floor or the bleachers to work out challenges. Parents’ and volunteers’ words of advice and encouragement resounded: “Be sure to read the directions all the way through;” “What do you think is going to happen?”
The lobby was a transition area featuring a “wall of math” – a roll of paper with sufficient space to mark out math problems, to be solved by other visitors to the wall. Also, children had an incentive to test their projection skills at the “estimation station.” The closest answers to the amounts in the containers were rewarded with Bedford Farms gift cards.
Davis School Principal Beth Benoit said STEM Night is the community’s third family event of the academic year, and after the exigencies of Covid-19, “it’s nice to be back as a community.”
Before the arrival of the coronavirus, she said, plans were taking shape for a math game night. It evolved into the full horizon of the STEM subjects on display Thursday.
The student volunteers, clad in special blue T-shirts, were universally praised. Many of them were former Davis School students, Benoit said, and they served as role models during their homecoming. “It was great to see the high school students interacting with our pre-K-2 kids and families with all of the different activities,” added Pumphrey.
Tricia Clifford, Assistant Superintendent of Schools, also referenced the ubiquitous BHS volunteers as she strolled from station to station. Smaldone said, “We also had an amazing showing from the high schoolers, who we could not have been more impressed by.” Pumphrey also applauded the Davis School teachers who served as volunteers.
“Our hope is that Davis students had the opportunity to start and continue the development of their own STEM identity; whether that was through seeing or working with a high schooler as a mentor of sorts, representative posters of everyday scientists, or their experiences of stepping into the role and doing the activities themselves,” Smaldone said.
Added Pumphrey, “It was really exciting to be able to put together an event that allowed so many different people to get together to explore and find joy in different STEM activities.”
Reflecting on the success of the event, Smaldone observed, “It was a reminder that what truly makes this town special are the people in it. Be it BEST being the supportive organization that they are, the high school students and staff collaborating with us, or JGMS and Lane lending us some of their equipment, it was obvious that at every level there are people who are committed to their Bedford students even if those students are not in their building yet.”