‘Toxic popcorn’

Stevens Institute does outreach with local students

Fifty eighth graders from Hoboken Junior-Senior High School visited Stevens Institute of Technology on Monday to take part in programs aimed at recruiting local kids to the university and teaching them math and science disciplines at an early age.
Meeting with staffers at the Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education (CIESE), the students completed on an activity called “Toxic Popcorn,” which challenged them to work in small groups to rig a contraption to transport unpopped corn kernels from one canister to another.
Using only a deflated rubber tube and four pieces of rope, the students attempted a variety of strategies.
“It’s a challenge because we have to brainstorm and then convince everyone to try the idea,” said James Forcum, one of the students.
One of his teammates, Anthony Sparacino, looked at the activity in a different light.
“It’s good because we’re working together and all, but it’s also nice because it’s something different from what we’re doing in school,” he said.

“Most of us have no idea what we want to do or where we want to go to college.” – Daniel Burrell
That viewpoint, that things like mechanics and engineering are not infused into elementary curricula as much as they should be, is exactly what CIESE is trying to change, said the group’s director, Arthur Camins.
CIESE focuses on the three-fold mission of developing math and science-based curricula for K-12 students, training teachers to be able to teach those curricula, and develop new ways that math and science can be effectively at the elementary level.

Students unfamiliar with engineering

“When the students arrived today, we asked them what they think engineers do and we didn’t hear a lot of responses,” Camins said. “But the fact is that everything around us is either natural or it’s engineered. Those realms are important for them to understand, and we’re trying to get them more interested because right now not a lot of them know.”
Camins also noted that a large portion of Hoboken’s public school population is from minority communities, which are underrepresented in STEM fields.
“The idea is to get them excited and interested early,” he said.
The trick seemed to work on at least one student. Daniel Burrell said that the day already had him thinking about where he’d like to go to college.
“Most of us have no idea what we want to do or where we want to go to college,” he said. “It’s important for us to be thinking about that though, so this is a cool way to get that started.”
Students were also given a tour of the campus, including a peek into several laboratories.
Stevens has a long history of working hand in hand with the Hoboken public schools to spread the idea that STEM education is a crucial aspect of any elementary curriculum. The university has provided teacher training, classroom support, classroom materials, as well as student programs including Innovation Camp, WaterBotics and “Girl Day,” a program aimed at recruiting more women to the field of engineering.
Since 1992, Stevens has awarded close to $2 million in scholarships for 27 Hoboken students to attend the school.
Last year’s Hoboken High School valedictorian, Christian Rosa, just completed his freshman year at Stevens.

Dean DeChiaro may be reached at deand@hudsonreporter.com

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