How do plants respond to their environment? Sunflowers track the sun; morning glories close up at night, and Venus flytraps sense and trap prey. Can you recreate these feats of botany and biology with circuitry?

From February 1 through February 5, the fourth and fifth-grade students at Garrison Forest School will engineer their own plants that react to external stimuli in GFS’s second annual STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art/design and math) week.

The unique, week-long STEAM immersion and cross-disciplinary learning adventure will suspend regular classes for the week, allowing students and teachers the chance to create, engineer, code and collaborate from all day. The project, a collaboration between classroom teachers, Lower School Science and Imagineering (GFS Pre-Engineering program) specialists and GFS STEAM faculty, is led by Jim Audette, science department chair and Upper School robotics coach.

The 2016 STEAM Week will introduce young engineers to Arduino, circuitry, and programming. The week will culminate with each girl designing her own plant that responds to environmental stimuli. Parent volunteers also get in on the fun. To add to the “working lab” aspect of the project, instead of working in their classrooms, both grades will spend STEAM Week together in the Lower School Great Room.

This year’s project builds upon the skills that students were exposed to during last year’s inaugural STEAM week. In 2015, the girls designed an interactive stuffed monster that was controlled by an Arduino Lilypad to play music, light up and snuggle with. “STEAM Week is a great opportunity for the students to break from the normal flow of school and have the space and time to fully engage in the design process,” says Mr. Audette. “The students get to engage in learning opportunities that are also hard fun and encourage the development of resilience.”

STEAM Week is one aspect of GFS’ comprehensive STEAM program, which begins with Imagineering/pre-engineering classes in the coed preschool and a Lower School and culminates in the school’s ground-breaking partnership with The Johns Hopkins University for the GFS Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) program. Since 2005, more than 200 GFS students have conducted 17,300-plus research hours in Hopkins’ labs. In September, GFS launched the Creative Co-op with Maker Spaces across campus, complete with 3-D printers, laser cutters, power tools, etc. for students and faculty to tinker, create and innovate.

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