Project aims to boost student achievement in science, technology, engineering, arts, and math

By Dave Conrad

How do you inspire a future generation of scientists, researchers, engineers, and explorers to imagine new possibilities for their lives?

You start by having fun, of course!

That's just what a group of 6th-8th-grade students, parents, and other family members did recently at the Sarah J. Rawson Elementary School in Hartford.

They met people from the Connecticut Science Center, Blue Hills Civic Association, the Connecticut Pre-Engineering Program (CPEP), and CBIA to see what's new at the Hartford elementary school and learn why they should join in: including in new after-school and weekend program offerings.

Science Center staff challenged students and parents with a mini engineering activity: develop and build a functioning prototype of a rocket glider that could be a reusable space vehicle.

CPEP engaged students in both a hands-on engineering challenge and a computer-based math learning game to showcase the types of activities they would experience in an upcoming five-week CPEP Saturday Math Gaming Challenge program.

And the Blue Hills Civic Association had everyone playing a "Human Tic Tac Toe" game that introduced in a lighthearted way the concepts of interpersonal communications, problem solving, and decision making.

Boundless Potential

Rawson is the state's first "Lighthouse School," working with a team of businesses, community groups, and educators to engage the school's students in the world of STEAM: science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. CBIA's Education Foundation serves as the Rawson Lighthouse project manager.

Step number one is to get the students, their families, and neighborhoods on board and aware of the programs and resources available to them. The Family Fun Night was the first of many planned community outreach events.

Attendees experienced the Lighthouse focus on project-based learning strategies and the benefits of its unique network of community- and business-based partners.

Michael Ross, STEM program coordinator for the Science Center, says building rockets was designed to "help the students and adults see how real-life problems are solved. Throughout the 15 minutes of design, they used their creativity and science knowledge to create, test, and improve their designs.

"Students actually experienced how science, technology, and mathematics all work together. The engineering design process is a tool that can be used to solve any kind of problem."

CPEP also stretched participants' critical thinking and problem solving skills, said Noah Ratzan, CPEP programs manager, with a challenge to build a structure at least 12 inches high using 10 index cards and masking tape. Oh, and it would have to support the weight of a heavy object for at least 10 seconds.

"Students also got the chance to experience CPEP's innovative and fun computer-based learning model, presented through teacher-based face-to-face instruction and the use of online math gaming software," said Ratzan.

According to Gabriel Boyd of the Blue Hills Civic Association, the Human Tic Tac Toe game was engineered to introduce such basics as following directions and working as a team. The twist was that the rules of the game and expectations of the teams gradually increased after each round of play: simulating how real-life work assignments often change in process. "Our goal was to introduce, highlight, practice, and reinforce basic career competency skills"_and personal qualities," said Boyd.

CBIA Education Foundation Executive Director Andrea Comer says, "The Blue Hills neighborhood is a vibrant community with tremendous resources. By infusing the school with quality partnerships and a commitment to rigorous, arts-integrated STEM curriculum, the potential for sustainable impact: in and beyond the school: is boundless."

The Lighthouse School project is designed to improve students' achievement and revitalize their communities. Under a State Department of Education grant, the Sarah J. Rawson Elementary School in Hartford will get resources, supports, and partnerships with community, education, parent, and business organizations to focus on developing students' STEAM knowledge and skills: ultimately to help meet the increasing demand for talent in STEAM-oriented industries in Connecticut.

Dave Conrad is a senior writer at CBIA. He can be reached at dave.conrad@cbia.com.