On Fridays at Immaculate Conception School in East Aurora, teachers, faculty members and volunteers engage students in interactive learning and fun via its STREAM Academies. This includes a variety of age-appropriate and inventive activities that promote learning skills needed to excel in science, technology, religion, engineering, art and math in the Catholic elementary school.
Students at ICS participate in the Invention Convention, Kitchen Chemistry, Rockin' Roller Coaster and Science Scrimmage, among others. Students in the younger grade levels use LEGOs in a constructive way to learn more about how the world works, while older students use their time dedicated to STREAM activities to prepare for rigors of entering high school.
"They have a STREAM Academy every Friday, so instead of an afterschool program, they took out 45 minutes at the end of every Friday," explained Brittany Bender, a science teacher and the STREAM coordinator at ICS. "The K-2, they do PEAP (Primary Engineering Adventure Program), which is engineering designs where they rebuild Baby Bear's chair, they make Cinderella's castle, things like that. The third through fifth grade, they all work together. In this academy, they are doing Hot Wheels."
On March 31, students collaborated in small groups to design and test tracks for their Hot Wheels cars. They were given tasks to complete, including making their toy cars go a certain distance or fulfilling a particular requirement, honing their engineering skills while learning how to work in a team and cooperate with one another for a common goal. Bender gave students the challenge of putting a piece of cloth on the tracks to see how far they could get cars to go with the obstructions hindering movement. Julia Wik, a third-grader, said of her project, "It was definitely fun, and I felt like it was really good teamwork."
"They'll get different challenges. That's one of the academies, and then there's a science scrimmage where they do different experiments. They'll make Play-Doh. (One student) did a little volcano in an apple before, just all different challenges that get them thinking and using different things," Bender said. "There's LEGO University, where they create different structures using LEGOs. There's Kitchen Chemistry, where they do different experiments in the kitchen. Today they are designing a healthy meal for an athlete."
The sixth- through eighth-graders participated in the Invention Convention, where they were required to invent something new that does not already exist. The Rockin' Roller Coaster academy lets them make roller coasters out of tubes, boxes, foam pipes and other materials. There is also a newspaper academy where students will go around and ask faculty and staff members questions of interest to students.
"This is my first year here, so they interviewed me and asked my favorite color, and different questions. Throughout the academy, they publish, I think it's two or three interviews. Right now, they sent out a survey, and it's 'Are You Smarter Than a Third-Grader?' That'll be a poll that will be in the newspaper. And then we have a recycling academy," Bender said. "Our technology teacher is doing that one."
According to Kristine Molek, a parent volunteer who helps out with the STREAM Academies, she has enjoyed helping out with her son's kindergarten classes, as well as those of the older students. "It's nice to see some of the other grades, and they rotate. The classes go to other grades to work with the other teachers, and I think it's nice to get to know some of the other teachers before you're going into that grade."
In addition to the students being able to meet some of the faculty members they will have once they are in the next grade, Molek said this also gave her the chance to meet her son's future teachers. Kindergarteners learned about different patterns, including hearts, circles and squares, and read a book about the alphabet. They were required to build a three-dimensional letter and write words starting with that letter.
"It's a good group activity. They get to work together, and it helps expand their creativity and thinking outside the box," Molek said of the STREAM activities for students in all grade levels.
"I think that it really incorporates a lot. The kids, they go to science lab and it's really hands-on. A lot of this stuff they wouldn't be able to do in a regular classroom, because there's just not time for it. Making that 45-minute time and the kids working together, like the third-, fourth- and fifth-graders, working together is really nice because they wouldn't get to do that, normally," Bender noted. "For the Hot Wheels, a third-grader might think, 'I didn't think to do that,' and then the fifth-grader would show them."