Haviland students get a bounce from science projects

Dropping Barbie and Ken dolls off a second-floor balcony may seem like child’s play, but at Bard College recently, it was all in the name of science.

A group of seventh graders from Hyde Park’s Haviland Middle School gathered in Bard’s Reem-Kayden Science Building July 18, to use the doll-drop as a way to test bungee cords they had constructed from rubber bands.

“We had to find patterns so we could drop [the dolls] from [the balcony],” student Austin Trainor told the Observer after he finished his drop. “Each rubber band would go up 10 centimeters.”

Haviland Life Sciences teacher Deborah Kravchuk said the students created a mathematical formula to measure how much give a chain of rubber bands would have while bearing the doll’s weight.

Students record their data after the dolls were dropped.  Photo courtesy Mary Krembs.
Students record their data after the dolls were dropped. Photo courtesy Mary Krembs.

The 26 seventh graders were part of a STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) program hosted by Bard College’s Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program. For five Saturdays during the school year and then five days in a row, July 14-18, the students were on campus for hands-on STEM learning, which included such exercises as shooting water balloons to measure arc and force; using nautilus shells to observe Fibonacci sequences, and activities involving tessellations, kaleidoscopes and more.

The students and teachers at the bungee-cord exercise were clearly having a good time watching each doll go over the edge and then recording their findings and talking over the experience in small groups.

“We’ve formed a bond with our teachers that we couldn’t have formed in school,” said student Elizabeth Odendahl. “We’ve learned a lot more than we could have learned in probably months in the classroom….When we’re actually, physically doing the learning, I don’t know, it helps with the learning.”

The program means a lot to the Bard MAT program, too. Math professor Mary Krembs, who also teaches in the MAT program, directed Bard’s part of the camp, and fellow math professor Cat Gaspard helped with the program over the school year. Krembs told the Observer, “We’re focused on helping our graduate students to become teachers so the more we work with live students and interact with them, the more that I, as their professor, can bring back [to the classroom]. These types of ‘inquiry-based’…hands-on [activities], getting them excited about science and math,…these are things we bring back to our classrooms to our teachers.”

Student Rosa Ceron prepares a doll for the drop.  Photo courtesy Mary Krembs.
Student Rosa Ceron prepares a doll for the drop. Photo courtesy Mary Krembs.

The program, including bussing to and from campus, was funded by a state Education Department grant the Hyde Park School District and Bard MAT program applied for together. Students were chosen for the program by teacher recommendation.

Six Hyde Park teachers and the two Bard professors voluntarily participated and were paid for their work through the grant. In addition to Kravchuk, the teachers were Colleen Bucci and Andrea Victor, who teach high school biology and earth science respectively; Natalie Matulich and Kelley Gould, both seventh grade math teachers, and Kim Knisel, Hyde Park’s director of math and science. Kravchuk and Bucci were both named Master Teachers this year as part of a state-wide program for STEM teachers.

“It’s my hope that we can use this STEM inquiry engagement in our classrooms,” Knisel said.

“The kids—every one—were so excited to come every day,” Kravchuk added, noting many have expressed interest in careers related to STEM, like mechanical engineering and criminal science. “So it’s really made a difference in what they’re doing.”

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