FLEMINGTON, NJ - Board members, teachers, parents and other members of the community broke away from the most recent board of education meeting to learn about the projects of about 40 Reading-Fleming Intermediate School students during a STEM Showcase at J.P. Case Middle School.

On display were projects from fifth and sixth graders in the Design and Applied Technology class, as well as fifth graders focused on math and sixth graders focused on science. The students promoted their science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) capabilities through both their physical creations and their overall ways of thinking.

Chris Schneider, 10, and Gabby Ruiz, 10, took advantage of Makey-Makey, an easy-to-use invention kit, to design and create their own interactive drum, crafted out of a cardboard box, paper, tape, an egg carton and other pieces designed using a 3-D Printer. Attendees could hear the sounds of the instruments, while the notes recorded on a laptop.  

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“I learned that you can make a prototype of any drum if you sketch and plan,” Chris said.

For Gabby, her favorite part was crafting the “top of the drum that makes the music.”

The two students were part of a group that created a bunch of real-life instruments using basic programming and recycled materials. The lineup included pianos, guitars, saxophones, trumpets and trombones, to name a few.

Bennett Mileto, 10, designed a guitar with Silas Leemon, 11. Both students agreed that they learned a lot about the opening and closing of a circuit. 

“I learned a lot about engineering and how to work together to make stuff,” Bennett said.

Silas said, “Making a guitar is just a whole bunch of fun with seeing how it all connects together.”  

Before attendees ventured out into the hallways, they heard a presentation from RFIS Principal Dr. Tony DeMarco. In his fourth year as principal, he talked about how they are ensuring all their students are STEM-ready.  

“All of our programs with STEM reach all of our students, regardless of their demographic, or their program placement in our school,” he said.

Part of their overarching philosophy is embracing new and effective ways that students can learn and gain a mastery of essential skills and knowledge in STEM.

“What that means is sometimes we have to unlearn what we’ve been taught in our lives, and things that we used to do as educators at one time,” he said. “We try to let go of less effective, existing structures, and we don’t say, ‘We’re doing it now because that’s how we’ve always done it.’”

Being more effective inside the classroom, he said, means that students have ownership over their learning. Meaningful personal instruction is provided, he said, while students wrestle with different perspectives and take risks.

DeMarco also walked the board and members of the public through some major initiatives of the four-year journey since he took over as principal, whether it has been the launching of their Design & Applied Technology course in fall 2016, or the integration of technology guided by the Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition (SAMR) Model.

“Substitution is something that we have clearly across the board moved away from,” he said. “Substitution would be if a student is using a Chromebook for something that they very easily could do with a pencil and paper. So it basically turns the Chromebook into a $300 or $400 pencil. That’s not good enough anymore. We’re looking for how is technology modifying and redefining the kids’ work, so that the technology leverages the activity. If the technology wasn’t there, they wouldn’t be able to engage in that type of learning.”
As part of this integration of technology, he credited the school’s technology integration specialist, Kristine Doty, who has led the RFIS Student Technology Assistance Team (STAT) for about 18 months. As part of this team, students help manage the website, and provide tech assistance to students and teachers having issues, among a number of tasks to test their expertise.

He also told the board that he hopes to expand the number of extracurricular offerings, as he noted they are receiving more interest than there are spots available.

“Growing from Risks: Why Risks Matter More than Mistakes” and “Love Math More, Hate Math Less” with relation to STEM will be discussed among a number of other session topics at the inaugural RFIS Parent Academy scheduled for Feb. 25, from 6:30 to 7:45 p.m. Snow date is March 10.