Last week, Garrison Forest School hosted its second annual STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art/design and math) Week for its fourth and fifth grade students. Among a range of STEAM activities, fourth and fifth-grade students at the all-girls, K – 12th-grade school spent the week designing and programming interactive plants that react to external stimuli via Arduino circuitry technology. It was a girl-powered engineering adventure (think coding, sensors and electronics) with lots of crafting (think brightly colored felt and foam, pipe cleaners and more). Instead of spending the week in traditional classes, the 4th and 5th grades worked together in a “learning lab” (the GFS Lower School Great Room) to brainstorm, collaborate and encourage each other as they designed their own imaginative plant that lit up, played a minuet, spun or closed on a pipe cleaner spider, just like a real Venus fly trap.
“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 Jim Audette, Garrison Forest science department chair and Upper School Robotics coach who designed the project. “The students get to engage in learning opportunities that are also hard fun and encourage the development of resilience.”
It’s also an opportunity to make headway on addressing some startling statistics. According to an American Association of University Women study, only 12 percent of engineers are women. In 1990, the number of women in computing was 35 percent. Today, that number has dropped to 26 percent. Encouraging girls to embrace and excel in science, math and technology in secondary school, college and certainly beyond requires a variety of challenging classes in STEAM disciplines and a myriad of opportunities to explore these fields, in and out of the classroom. Equally important is the recognition that the “A” in STEAM for art/design to hone vital spatial reasoning skills is just as crucial as the other letters.
The exuberant fun of ten and eleven-year-old girls engineering high-tech botanical creations wasn’t the only STEAM activity at Garrison Forest last week. Here are a few highlights:
- Several juniors and seniors presented the results of their semester-long research at Johns Hopkins University to graduate students and faculty. Through the GFS Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) program, which Garrison Forest launched in partnership with Hopkins in 2005, students work side-by-side with researchers in labs at Hopkins’ Whiting School of Engineering, Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, Jhpiego, Bloomberg School of Public Health, Peabody Library, the JHU Archaeological Museum or Johns Hopkins Hospital campus. To date, more than 200 GFS students have conducted more than 17,300 research hours on world-class projects.
- Upper School mathematicians tested their numerical acumen on national tests. Seven out of 14 high school participants in the recent North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad , given at Hopkins, were GFS students. The three-hour NACLO is a national contest at which high-school students solve challenging linguistic puzzles. This was Garrison Forest’s fifth year competing in the open round. On the GFS campus, select students were participating in the country’s most prestigious math contest, the American Mathematics Competition sponsored by the Mathematical Association of America.
- The Upper School also got an infusion of new “students”—about 150—when the Animal Science class took delivery of dozens of trout eggs last week. Later this spring, students will release the young trout, which are being raised in the Upper School, into the Chesapeake Bay watershed as part Trout Unlimited’s Trout in the Classroom project.
- On January 2, students in Upper School visual art electives visited the “Wonder” exhibit of large-scale art at Washington D.C.’s Renwick Gallery.
- Digital Thinking students explored the world of podcasting by listening to “This I Believe” podcasts of the Edward R. Murrow news series from the 1950s and writing their own podcasts.
- Earlier in the weekend, the Upper School Robotics team competed in a state qualifying round for the FIRST Tech Challenge at Bryn Mawr School.
- In the Middle School, students watered their new living wall of plants in science teacher Karen Meyers’ classroom, while students shared their foray into branding and design through the new Garrison Forest “maker spaces” or Creative Co-ops. Working with science teacher Dan Mendenhall and art teacher Hannah LeVasseur, budding graphic artists used a sandblaster to etch on glass, made rubber stamps on the laser cutter and cut vinyl masks on the vinyl cutter to use in screen printing.
Younger girls in the Lower School got in on the STEAM Week fun, too. For its Colonial history unit, third graders created patterns, measured, cut, and sewed Colonial-era aprons. Soon, the girls will add original buttons printed on the 3-D printers in the Creative Co-op. Pre-First students built Leaning Towers of Pisa/Pasta out of spaghetti and marshmallows, a sticky, fun cross-disciplinary lesson on geography and engineering.
And in the coed Preschool, boys and girls worked on building the tallest towers they could create (and, of course, knock down).