STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. It is important because these disciplines pervade every part of our lives nowadays. Science is everywhere in the world around us. Technology is continuously expanding into every aspect of our lives. Engineering helps build our roads and bridges, tackles global weather changes, and develops environmentally friendly changes to our buildings and homes. Mathematics is used in just about every occupation and every activity we do in our lives.
By exposing our students  to STEM lessons and giving them opportunities to explore STEM-related concepts, we hope that they will become successful in our technological society and develop knowledge and understanding of the disciplines that help build our world. 

STEM at St. Als/St. Pats: Erosion Experiments

Fourth grade students conducted a  STEM project that examined the effects of erosion on the land. Each group was give a pan of sand. The students then created caves volcanoes and other landforms in the sand. A paper cup with a tiny hole was taped to a ruler and place at the top of the pan. The pan was then tilted and water was poured into the cup. Students then observed the effect of the flowing water on the landforms and recorded the outcomes.

STEM at St. Als/St. Pats: A Visit to Argonne National Laboratory

On February 28, our junior high students had the privilege to visit Argonne National Laboratory. First the students were taken to the Argonne Learning Labs. Each room in the lab is named after a famous scientist and the staff here is dedicated to helping students understand the science that is being done at Argonne, particularly for developing clean, renewable energy sources and ways to store generated power for future use.

The student groups rotated through three different STEM lessons at the learning lab where they experimented with harnessing wind power to create electricity, potential and kinetic energy, and extracting hydrogen to power a fuel cell that could then light a bulb or run a small car! The students had to apply the scientific method as they experimented. They learned that scientists usually narrow their focus to one aspect of a problem or design question and then they collaborate with other scientists who are working on other pieces of the puzzle to create a solution born of a collective wisdom.
One of our parents, Mr. Skwarek, took time out of his workday to give our students a tour of the Argonne Advanced Photon Source, "a remarkable scientific tool that helps researchers illuminate answers to the challenges of our world, from developing new forms of energy to sustaining our nation's technological competitiveness to pushing back the against the ravages of disease." The students learned that researchers from all over the world come to use this amazing facility. It was a fascinating field trip and a great chance to observe science in action for the real world!

Field Trip to Argonne National Laboratory

STEM at St. Als/St. Pats: Building a House of Cards

The eighth grade students recently finished their study of forces. Using what they learned, they were asked to construct houses out of decks of cards. The class was challenged to see which construction could hold the most weight. They had to use careful design principles and some trial and error to create the strongest structure. Note that the strongest playing card house was able to withstand the force of 2700 grams!

STEM at St. Al's/St. Pats: Homemade Anemometers

The fourth graders have been  studying weather in Science. They made their own Anemometers out of a paper plate, cups, a spool of thread and a stick .Then they took their creations outside and tested their work. An Anemometer measures wind speed. The students counted how many times the Anemometer turned during a one minute interval to calculate the wind speed The students then recorded their results and assessed the effectiveness of their design. 

Fourth Grade Anemometers

STEM at St. Als/St. Pats: The Science Fair 2017

On Thursday, January 26, many weeks of preparation culminated in the school Science Fair for our seventh and eighth grade students.  Under the guidance of St. Alphonsus/St. Patrick School junior high science teacher, Mrs. O’Hara, the students develop a hypothesis, design an experiment to test their hypothesis, conduct the experiment and analyze the results.  A written report that includes a review of the literature about other similar studies accompanies the displays that are presented by the students at the science fair.  Pairs of judges rate the student’s work and the scores are averaged and tallied to determine who will represent our school at the regional science fair. The science experiments were quite varied this year and showed excellent application of the scientific method. There were experiments that involved behavioral science, chemistry, physics, consumer science, material science, computer science, and even cellular molecular biology!  The critical thinking and problem solving fostered by the science fair are very important skills that students need to have in their toolbox for life. Pictured here are the student projects along with their abstracts and their displays. 

STEM at St. Als/St. Pats: The Stock Market Game

The Stock Market Game (SMG) program is used in thousands of classrooms nationwide to help teach core academic subjects while emphasizing the importance of long-term saving and investing.  Students work together in teams to conduct research, invest their hypothetical $100,000 cash account and manage their portfolio over time.  Through their participation, student teams gain practical knowledge about the markets, learning such concepts as risk and diversification.  While the students think they’re playing a game, their teachers know they’re learning real-life economic and financial skills that will benefit them for years to come.

Ms. Burke, our junior high Math teacher, and Mrs. Yakes, our technology teacher,  work together as a team at St. Als/St. Pats to bring this learning experience to our eighth grade students. They use the SMG program’s online educational resource library as a tool to enhance student engagement with math, language arts, social studies, business, and technology, while integrating investment concepts into their existing curriculum.  The cross-curricular lessons and materials address many important learning standards.

STEM at St. Als/St. Pats: Hour of Code 2016

During National Computer Science Education Week (December 5-9 this year) all of our students join  millions of others around the world and attempt to learn a bit of computer coding and even some app invention. This has become a nationwide campaign to expose students to this important skill. The exercises the children participate in also fit very well into our STEM initiative (Science-Technology-Engineering-Math). The students listen to short tutorials by famous personalities and expert computer scientists as they attempt to complete the wide array of tutorials available. These short instructional videos are designed to pique interest in computer science and guide the student’s coding experiences.

All of Mrs. Yakes’ students from PreSchool up through the 8th grade are given the opportunity to try computer coding.  Many tried this year’s specially designed tutorial based on the new Disney movie. Moana.  Students used Blockly (a simplified coding language) to create their programs and they were able to reveal the actual coding language that lies beneath the blocks.  Other students experimented with tutorials offered by Tynker and by Some even tried their hand at more complex coding and App creation using the MIT App Inventor site. If you would care to check out this year’s possibilities for the Hour of Code, click these links to try your hand:  Hour of Code 2016 and the MIT App Inventor.

 These lessons will be ongoing in the lab so that students can continue their opportunity to experience computer coding and gain some appreciation for what computer scientists do to help make our world a better place. In the words of Bill Gates, every student should learn how to do computer coding because “it teaches you how to think and how to solve problems”, and those are very important skills indeed!

STEM at St. Als/St. Pats: Experiments with the Bernoulli Principle

Why does a curve ball curve? Why does an airplane fly? Engineers manipulate air pressure in their designs to control and stabilize everything from rockets to helicopters to blimps. When designing airplane wings, they shape them so that they create lift. Even cars and trains are designed to take advantage of this principle, helping moving vehicles to stay on the ground at high speeds. What principle is this? The Bernoulli principle!!

Sixth and seventh grade students used Bernoulli’s principle in our science lab to manipulate air pressure in a series of STEM activities so its influence would be seen on everyday objects around us. The first activity was called the Paper Tent. With a simple piece of paper folded lengthwise and propped up, students hypothesized what would happen if they blew into the tent. Most thought the paper would fly up or lift into the air. Because the air moving through the inverted V has less pressure, and the outside has higher pressure, students found a different result.

During the second experiment students had to predict what would happen when they blew between two balloons suspended in the air. After recording their hypotheses and conducting the experiment, most found again their predictions did not match the results. In the third experiment, our students had to predict how to get a ping pong ball from one cup into another cup without touching either the ball or the cup. Our scientists in training were beginning to catch on to the effects of air pressure. The students learned to gently blow across the top of the cup with the ball in it. The air pressure moving across the top of the cup was less than the pressure inside the cup. The higher pressure inside the cup forces the ball to jump out of the cup and into the other one.

The students hopefully learned and can explain that air pressure decreases as the speed of air or velocity increases and that air pressure acts in all directions—not just down.

STEM at St. Als/St. Pats: First Grade STEM Lesson

Alumni Madison Wall, Class of 2009, returned to our first grade recently to share a STEM Lesson (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). The lesson, called the Balancing Robot, helped the first graders understand balance and center of gravity. The children colored their robots and then used two pennies to find the center of gravity. They tried balancing their robots in many ways and in many places around the room.
Madison is taking a course entitled Broadening Participation in STEM and was happy to share her expertise with us. She will graduate from Loyola University in December with a degree in Math and Computer Science. She will continue at the University to receive her Masters degree in Secondary Education with a Mathematics endorsement. 

Balancing Robots in First Grade