During a sunny April morning at Hagedorn Hall, home of Hofstra University’s School of Education, fourth graders from nearby California Avenue Elementary School in Uniondale are taking notes while their classmates run and jump rope. Inside is a flurry of activity as children, their teachers, Hofstra students and their professors all work together to play out a number of different scenarios.
These include stations where the children learn the skills of:
- Architects designing a mall.
- Cardiologists experimenting with heart rate and pulse before and following physical activity.
- Food scientists noting changes in popcorn kernels – before and after the popping.
- Linguists coming up with names for pretend dinosaur species, using root words, prefixes and suffixes.
- Museum curators classifying a display of natural specimens and determining what it means to be “alive.”
The children get a chance to try out these jobs, and many others, at Hofstra’s 3-year-old STEM Studio. Each activity encourages them to measure, analyze, discover, research, talk about and listen to each other’s thinking. The California Avenue School fourth graders visit Hofstra eight times a year.
The STEM Studio also hosts visits from elementary schools in Freeport, Roosevelt, Plainedge, Herricks and Hempstead, which keeps the studio very busy. Each time the children visit, they work with the same Hofstra students and faculty members, so as each semester goes on they feel more comfortable, build bonds and more readily share their creative thinking.
STEM, an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, has long been important to K-12 education. The goal is to spark children’s interest in these subjects by showing the wide range of applications and connections they have to everyday activity and information, and to each other.[quote style=”boxed” float=”right”]I feel like we’re helping them grow, not just as students, but as human beings. I get to know their personalities and how each student thinks. I want them to be able to take learning into their own hands when they leave here. I want to help guide them. – Nicole Osovski, STEM major [/quote]
While the children see their regular visits to Hofstra as fun field trips, each of the tasks in which they engage strengthens intellectual skills that are tested by the New York state assessment program. The STEM Studio serves as a clinical practice site for undergraduate and graduate students of Hofstra’s School of Education. The STEM Studio complements the undergraduate STEM major for elementary education students, while extending the clinical experience of pre-service teachers of all undergraduate education majors.
It also enhances research opportunities within the Master of Arts Program in STEM Elementary Education. STEM Studio master teacher and Hofstra doctoral candidate Julia Caliendo is studying the role of the studio approach in teacher preparation. The STEM Studio is sponsored by Hofstra’s Office of the Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, the School of Education and IDEAS (The Institute for the Development of Education in the Advanced Sciences). The Motorola Solutions Foundation has underwritten the class visits to Hofstra.
Dr. Jacqueline Grennon Brooks, Hofstra professor of teaching, literacy and leadership and director of the STEM Studio, says, “There is a lot of research that shows us that real learning cannot be measured by one Olympic-style event, such as a state exam. We offer problem-based learning and environments in which children solve STEM-based problems. The byproduct of this work is the children’s success on the state exam. But, most important, we are teaching transferable skills that apply to the many domains of the children’s lives.”
She continues, “We like to think of the STEM Studio as an everyday classroom. We want our classrooms to be challenging environments in which learning to read, write, speak and listen, and learning to compute, and learning to be a neighbor and a friend and a peer are all one and the same, and all integrated into the life of the classroom.”
Nicole Osovski, a STEM major at Hofstra, is one of the students who works regularly with the visiting elementary school students. “It’s been awesome working with these kids,” Osovski says. “It’s really gratifying to work with them, because you open their eyes to new opportunities and a new way of learning. It’s more hands-on than classroom structure.”