Congressman Adam Schiff stopped by Bret Harte Elementary School on Monday, October 5, to observe a fourth-grade classroom science lesson and see the growing Science Lab at the school.
Teacher Alicia Boylan, who teaches both fourth- and fifth-grades, taught a mechanical engineering lesson about the invasion of the cane toad into an indigenous ecosystem, to 29 fourth-graders.
The students then created a device to capture a toad using materials such as dominos, paper towel tubes and cotton balls. The catch and release concept was applied to relocate non-native animals, explained Principal Martha Walter.
“I enjoyed spending the morning with the bright and inquisitive fourth grade students of Bret Harte Elementary. It was exciting to see teachers put STEM education into practice in the classroom, as the students worked on engineering projects – traps for an invasive species of toad,” commented Schiff. “Students were learning to practically apply their knowledge in innovative ways and having fun in the process!”
Boylan credits a three-day NTSA Conference in Long Beach with opening her eyes to new possibilities for her students with STEM/STEAM lessons and NEXTGEN Science Standards.
“I began digging into Engineering and Computer Science to see how I could integrate these into my day. STEAM [Science Technology Engineering Arts Mathematics] blends so well with the Common Core Standards and I’ve seen the difference in my students,” Boylan added. “They are problem solvers and critical thinkers now, not just bubble filling robots on multiple choice tests.”
“I thought the Congressman was very engaged with the students and seemed to genuinely care about what they were learning,” commented Boylan. “He was also knowledgeable about how important computer science, technology, science, engineering, and math are in today’s school.”
Over the summer, some Bret Harte teachers started work to turn a bungalow on campus into a Science Lab, but more funding is necessary to realize the teachers’ ideas.The dedicated science space provides teachers and students with hands-on activities to explore science lessons and concepts, according to Walter.
“Hopefully, in the future we will be able to have a real working Science Lab filled with the necessary equipment to conduct the experiments in the NEXTGEN standards!” Boylan said.
Boylan also teaches block-based coding with code.org and has started a Coding Club after school so that she can reach all interested students.
“Too many students are graduating high school without the computer science and engineering skills to compete in today’s job market,” Boylan said. “I think they need to be exposed to it in school, especially elementary!”
“The Bret Harte staff is beginning to implement the Next Generation Science Standards through concept development and experimentation,” said Walter. “As a school, staff work to instill in children an excitement about science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).”
“Early exposure to and experience with STEM content ensures that students will be able to create and become the kinds of innovative thinkers needed today and in the future,” she added. “As a school, we are grateful for Representative Schiff’s interest in and support of STEM/STEAM initiatives and pleased to have this opportunity for him to see our young inventors in action.”