By Lian Bunny, ’17
The Olean City School District received a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Enrichment Grant last year, allowing the district to partner with St. Bonaventure University through a series of workshops.
The $60,000 grant from the New York State Department of Education was contingent on partnering with a university and having a residential camp on its campus. It allowed 15 students in sixth and seventh grades to attend monthly sessions on St. Bonaventure’s campus, concluding with a four-day summer camp.
Dr. Joseph Zimmer, dean of the School of Education, and Dr. Wolfgang Natter, former dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, helped to oversee the grant. They worked in tandem with Katie Ralston, the Olean district’s STEM coordinator.
Throughout the fall of 2013 and the spring of 2014, St. Bonaventure faculty from the School of Arts and Sciences led hands-on, STEM-related activities every few weeks. Tae Cooke, lecturer of physics, Dr. Steve Andrianoff, associate professor of computer science, and Dr. Christopher Hill, assistant professor of mathematics, ran sessions in their respective fields of study. Dr. Nick Mitchell, a former biology faculty member, was in charge of the biology sessions until the summer of 2014.
“The goal of the program was to increase the students’ interest in the STEM areas through unusual and fun activities they might not have seen before,” Hill said.
Cooke ran an introduction to electronics session, where students learned about basic circuit devices and played with light emitting diodes (LEDs) as well as batteries and resistors. The students also got to use circuit layout software to create small LED boards, which the students were able to take home. When the students returned for the summer sessions, Cooke showed the students how to make entire clocks from LEDs, which involved soldering 72 LEDs as well as other components. The students got to take home their functioning digital clocks.
Andrianoff taught students the basics of computer programming. During one activity, the students hooked a device to the computer that let them create a piano keyboard out of Play-Doh and containers of water. When students hit a Play-Doh key or put their finger in one of the containers of water, the computer would play a different note.
During another session, Andrianoff taught his students how to program a dialogue between characters.
Early in the spring, the students learned basic video game programming. St. Bonaventure computer science students taught the sixth- and seventh-graders how to make a background move, so it looked like the figure on the screen was traveling through the scenery. They controlled the figure using Xbox Kinect, so their arms and hands controlled the figure’s movements.
“Although I planned the activities, the Bonaventure students did the hands-on help with the kids; I thought that worked really well,” Andrianoff said. “The kids related very well to the Bonaventure students. That was a key to success.”
Andrianoff said he would like to continue doing STEM activities in Olean schools. He has obtained a grant from National Grid to support STEM activities in Portville, with computer programming beginning as early as November.
Hill used a plastic construction kit called Zometool to teach his mathematical lessons. Zometool can be used to make myriad geometric structures, from simple polygons to platonic solids, from models of DNA molecules to geodesic domes and from “shadows” of four-dimensional figures to works of art.
During his mathematics sessions in the spring, Hill let the students experiment with Zometool in a gallery in The Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts on campus. By the end of the meeting, some students had built a replica of the White House, while others had constructed skyscrapers that reached the top of the gallery.
In his next session, Hill had the students participate in a “geometric barn raising.” The group of 15 students worked together to create a 7,200-part model of a three-dimensional shadow of a four-dimensional shape called a cantellated hypericosahedron. Hill has directed seven “barn raisings,” and this bunch of sixth- and seventh-graders was his youngest group yet.
Five of these “barn raising” geometric shapes are on display in Friedsam Memorial Library.
“When the students left my session in the spring after the ‘barn raising,’ their model was in the gallery,” Hill said. “When they returned in the summer, it had been moved over to the library, where it was conspicuously displayed on the second floor. The students were delighted to see it on display there. They had tremendous pride for creating an amazing structure.”
Overall, Ralston felt the STEM program was a success.
“The goal of exposing students to new opportunities and heightening interest in STEM areas was certainly achieved,” Ralston said. “Not only did we see improvement in students’ grades and efforts, but we also heard so many positive comments from teachers and parents. Personally, I feel the biggest achievement was hearing students say things like, ‘I am definitely going to college here,’ or ‘I didn’t know I was good at this. I love it.’”
Zimmer was grateful for the opportunity to showcase St. Bonaventure’s strengths.
“I was very proud of our science, technology and mathematics faculty for stepping up and engaging with young people because we know middle school is where impressions are made for later careers,” Zimmer said. “I was very happy to see that we are participating in the STEM world. We are not just a liberal arts institution, but we have a very strong science component to our university.”
About the University: The nation’s first Franciscan university, St. Bonaventure University cultivates graduates who are confident and creative communicators, collaborative leaders and team members, and innovative problem solvers who are respectful of themselves, others, and the diverse world around them. We are establishing pathways to internships, graduate schools and careers in the context of our renowned liberal arts tradition. Our students are becoming extraordinary.
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