STEM comes to life
A unique partnership with the Long Island Children’s Museum (LICM) is allowing Westbury School District students the chance to see STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) in a whole new way.
For the past six years, the LICM has partnered with the Westbury School District to provide hands-on learning for all first and second-grade students. The students take trips to the museum, where they can discover exhibits and see in an interactive setting what they’ve been learning about in the classroom. There is a strong focus on inquiry-based learning, where students develop their experimental and analytical skills, rather than just memorizing information.
Teachers do pre-lessons before trips to prepare students for what the activities they do at the museum; all of which compliment what they’re learning at school. After a classroom lesson on fish, students got to dissect a fish at the museum, similarly after a unit on maps, students used direction vocabulary for a scavenger hunt. Park Avenue principal Gloria Dingwall said the trips allow science to go beyond the classroom walls and the pages of their textbooks.
“The children get to learn science vocabulary and about science inquiry through the trips. It reinforces what’s in their textbooks and enhances the curriculum,” said Dingwall, noting that students also come away better prepared for the state assessments they take in fourth grade.
Aimee Terzulli, director of education and visitor experience at the LICM, said the partnership was started because they wanted to engage students with STEM at a younger age.
“A lot of STEM was happening in the later years in schools, and the effects of engaging children much younger will have a great impact,” Terzulli said. They initially started with the second graders, then expanded it to first-graders as well. “The biggest takeaway is that people are having positive STEM experiences at the museum and the school.”
But the partnership hasn’t just helped students, it’s enhanced the educational experience for teachers as well. The LICM provides training for every teacher and teacher’s aide with professional development courses, as well as provides resources and techniques they can use in the classroom to make science engaging for their students. The program is based on a very collaborative, co-teaching model, with LICM staff working together with teachers to curate curriculum for the partnership. A core group of early childhood teachers also meets several times a year and gives recommendations on what the program should include, based on state standards for teaching and the district’s curriculum.
“The teachers are definitely more excited about science,” said Dingwall. “They’re more prepared for instructing it and the teachers are better at their craft.”
Second-grade teacher Rose Joyner said that the partnership has given her other ideas and resources on how to make science education more interactive and engaging for students.
“It brings in other resources and ideas that could be done in the classroom,” Joyner said. “It brings science to life. A lot of these students don’t have parents who would normally take them to the museum, but now they can experience certain things. And things we can’t do in the classroom, they get to experience as well.”
One of the most noteworthy aspects of the program, is that it also extends to the Westbury community. Every year, the museum holds a family night where students and their families, including parents, grandparents and siblings, can come to the LICM for free. Transportation and dinner is provided as well. Dingwall notes that an opportunity like this would usually be impossible for her students, many of whom live in poverty or come from cultures where going to museums is not usually typical.
“This allows them to explore science with their families,” said Dingwall. “It gives them an opportunity for family time and is intergenerational. It also bridges the gap between home and school, so makes [parents] feel more connected to the school as well as the museum.”
In the last two years, the LICM has also introduced parent workshops at the schools, where they come to the school for an evening with materials from the museum and parents and children can enjoy an interactive science workshop.
The LICM partnership with the school district is made possible by grants and Terzulli said it’s a one they hope to continue for many years.
“We’re really trying to invite the community in, and it has become such a symbiotic relationship. We’re learning together,” she said. “The community should be proud of this program. It’s really making a difference for students and families.”