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STEAM Explorers: Changing How Kids Think About Science and Math

Students at Miller Middle School learn about blubber and arctic mammals' abilities to
stay warm at a water-themed STEM Night Out. Photo by Sarah deVeer '17.
By Sarah Wallock ’19

If you’re passing through the Reem-Kayden Center on a given Saturday afternoon, you may run into a group of middle school girls, chatting about math games and examining the origami designs that they just made in the Girls Math Club. Or, if you’re a patron of the Tivoli Library, you may come across a STEAM Workshop using soap and food coloring to make marbled milk paper and learn about how calcium affects saturation rates. Both programs are hosted by STEAM Explorers, an initiative of Bard’s Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) and Math Program. STEAM Explorers has two components: Bard Science Outreach and the Bard Math Circle. Together, they work to create experiences and design experiments that inspire wonder, spark curiosity, and challenge old ideas.

Sarah deVeer ’17 volunteered for STEAM Explorers as a Bard student; now, she runs the program as the science outreach coordinator. This year she has worked to expand the program beyond local partners in Red Hook, Rhinebeck, Kingston, and Tivoli to communities across the Hudson Valley such as in Beacon, Albany, and Hudson. Sarah also worked to revamp the curriculum, and to good effect: John Kemnitzer, the principal of Bulkeley Middle School in Rhinebeck, recently said that this year’s program was the best one yet.
Children participating in Bard's STEAM Explorers program make marble milk paper at the Tivoli Library. Photo by Sarah Wallock ’19.
Children participating in Bard’s STEAM Explorers program make marbled milk paper at the Tivoli Library. Photo by Sarah Wallock ’19.

“One aspect that I really love about Bard’s STEAM Explorers is that we don’t charge the schools or community for our programs,” says deVeer. “We offer these programs because we genuinely believe that Bard is a private institution operating in the public interest.” Working with six STEM fellows and 30 engagement mentors, STEAM Explorers collaborates with 12 partners in schools and community organizations throughout the Hudson Valley. DeVeer also coordinates science engagement efforts as part of Bard’s Citizen Science Program and Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Engagement. The most important part of discussing issues such as water quality and natural resource use with students, she notes, is how STEAM Explorers is “starting the conversation with the next generation.”

The Bard Math Circle was started in 2007 by mathematics students and faculty at Bard, to address the dearth of math enrichment opportunities in the Mid-Hudson Valley. It began with a monthly program at the Tivoli library, where the organizers brought puzzles, games, and toys that emphasized problem-solving skills and making math fun for all ages. Students attending the library programs reported doing better in their math courses at school because of their involvement with the project.
The Girls Math Club, led by Bard students, works on origami designs in the Reem-Kayden Center on Bard's campus. Photo by Bari Bossis ’19.
The Girls Math Club, led by Bard students, works on origami designs in the Reem-Kayden Center on Bard’s campus. Photo by Bari Bossis ’19.

From the outset, Bard undergraduates have been an integral part of the Math Circle, running and developing programs, leading hands-on workshops, and mentoring K-12 students. The Math Circle has expanded over time to include programs at several libraries, schools, and community centers; math contests and national math competitions; programs to empower girls in math; a Rubik’s Cube Club; special events for teachers and senior citizens; and the most popular program, a weeklong summer CAMP (Creative, Analytical Math Program) for middle schoolers, run primarily by Bard faculty, alumni/ae, undergraduates, and local high school volunteers who have taken part in Math Circle programs. One parent whose daughter participated in the Girls Math Club recently commented, “My child was always happy after meetings, and she liked the girls-only space to learn and explore.” Undergraduate leaders credit their involvement with the Math Circle as one of the highlights of their Bard experience. The majority of Math Circle student leaders choose to pursue a career in teaching after graduation.

STEAM Explorers started in 2010 as an effort to bring science and math to area students in new and creative ways. Bard Science Outreach fellows and Bard Math Circle faculty and volunteers work with more than 4,000 children and teens throughout the Hudson Valley each year. Partnering with local schools, they connect what students are learning in the classroom with real-world issues, especially those facing the Hudson Valley region.

During the month of January, Science Outreach fellows worked with six different school districts to host a Day of Science. The CCE outreach team conducted science experiments around the theme of Hudson River watershed health, from off-campus events at Chancellor Elementary in Rhinebeck and Smith Intermediate School in Hudson, to on-campus events for local middle school students. Bard students led activities that showed the importance of local aquifers to the ecosystem. Participants tested the salinity of the river water, played a PCB board game, explored pH filters, and demonstrated water conservation through interactive activities.

STEAM Explorers works to provide real-world applications in all its experiments, like dissecting owl pellets to classify rodent skeletons and building marshmallow towers to learn effective design and construction mechanisms. “My favorite experiment was when we played with owl pellets!” says Junnaria, a sixth-grade student in Perfect Ten, an after-school program in Hudson that empowers and mentors young girls. “It was so cool finding all the bones of the animals! This [experiment] has made me more curious about nature and biology.” Melissa, a seventh grader from Perfect Ten, comments, “I really liked the marshmallow tower. It showed me how to plan measurements for buildings. It’s cool to find out that math and science are in everything, even marshmallows.”

Antonio Gansley-Ortiz ’18, a science outreach engagement mentor, reflects on how his work with the STEAM Explorers continues to influence him: “In April while out having dinner with [another mentor], I ran into one of my middle school students. She recognized us and pointed us out to her parents. The entire family then came over and thanked us for the experience. They also mentioned the student hadn’t stopped talking about her excitement with science. That moment was incredibly fulfilling. I want to help provide that positive experience to other students in the community.”

STEAM Explorers Initiatives
  • Day of Science brings eighth graders from local school districts to the Bard campus to engage with Bard science fellows, faculty, and undergraduates in a series of themed science stations.  
  • Girls Math Club for middle school girls run by Bard female math majors.
  • Math Circle Library Programs include puzzles, games, and fun math activities for upper elementary and middle school students.
  • Rubik’s Cube Club teaches kids how to master the Rubik’s Cube.
  • Science Fairs connect Black Student Organization fellows and volunteers to mentor local students preparing to enter school science fairs.
  • Science for Kids brings in-school, hands-on science experiments to K-5 students by using household products in new ways.
  • Science Saturday brings children and families together with Bard students at local libraries and community centers to participate in science enrichment activities.
  • STEM Night Out invites young students throughout the Hudson Valley to an evening of fun, hands-on scientific experiments led by science fellows and Bard first-year students.
Visit the Bard Math Circle and STEAM Explorers to learn more.
Post Date: 03-12-2019