MADISON, NJ - At Central Avenue School last week, more than 120 students from grades 3 -5 gathered to showcase their love of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) with 65 projects they had been working on since January. The projects explored a wide range of interests -- from basketball to gummy bears to slime -- but all of them followed the same basic steps of the scientific method.
CAS parents Laura Axler and Stephanie Dalessio organized the event, which took place in the gym after school and attracted an outstanding 450 attendees. They reached out to parents willing to be “Science Experts,” whose job it was to walk among the projects and ask students questions such as, “Why did you pick this topic?,” and “What was the most challenging part of your project?”
Axler also reached out to Suzanne Monkemeier, science teacher at Madison High School (MHS), who brought in three additional MHS science teachers (Kevin Braine, Luis Largo and Michael Tollin) as well as Vin Dionisio, the new Science and Technology Supervisor at MHS, and Jason Erdreich, a STEM teacher at the Madison Junior School (MJS).
“The STEM Fair was full of positive energy and excitement,” said Monkemeier. “I really enjoyed talking to the students about their projects. It was evident that they all put in a lot of hard work and dedication. Their excitement and enthusiasm was inspiring!”
A highlight of the evening was a robot built by the MHS robotics club that captured a whiffle ball, moved it to a second chamber, and then launched it in front of a large crowd of amazed kids and their parents. Spencer Moore, a former CAS student and member of the MHS robotics club, explained to the crowd that the robot has special wheels which required a significant amount of programming to allow them to move in any direction without changing the orientation of the robot.
Axler said an important part of the STEM Fair was encouraging students to take full ownership of their projects by conducting their own experiments rather than relying on their parents for help. Axler also did not want to award prizes to any projects, giving all participants silver STEM medals that one student excitedly claimed were “the real deal.”
“All of the kids voluntary gave up their free time and put forth a good amount of effort, so we felt they should all be rewarded,” said Axler. “We also really wanted their projects to be their own, so if we eliminated any competition, we felt we had a better chance the projects would in fact stay kid-focused.”
Mike Dalessio, a software engineer who studied physics at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, served as a “Science Expert” and took his role very seriously, asking if all the scientists on a particular project were present and accounted for before he” interviewed” them.
“One reason I’m enthusiastic about volunteering in STEM programs is to be a big un-self-conscious nerd in front of everyone,” said Dalessio. “I want to show kids that it’s OK and perfectly normal to be curious and to seek to understand. For kids who are just starting to like science and math, I want to be a memorable example, even if it’s only for five minutes.”
Dalessio was particularly impressed by third grader Thomas London’s popcorn project. “He made real scientific observations, even going so far as to count unpopped kernels and weigh the popped kernels,” he said. “He also used some advanced math to calculate objective quality metrics and ending up disproving his initial hypothesis. Really great work!”
“My favorite part of the night was seeing a packed house full of students and parents excited about science and technology,” said Axler. “Another part was that the event inspired kids who didn’t even know they liked science. A fourth grader who did not participate but attended told me he already knows what he is going to do next year.”
"I am so pleased that the majority of our students in grades 3-5 completed a STEM Project,” said Thomas Liss, CAS Principal. “It shows me how important STEM is in the lives of these students today."