On a Friday afternoon at Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy, the COMPASS students learned how to make tessellations. Ana Romano, a Trinity College student, led the group through the two golden rules: one, tessellations are a way to tile a floor and they can go on forever, and can’t have any gaps. Two, the tiles must be regular polygons, and all the vertexes must look the same.

Once given the parameters, the students created their paper tessellations with a little extra help from a group of Trinity College students. The Trinity STEM-Ed Club organizes science experiments like this one to share with students; to date, their activities have included lessons on forensic chemistry, bridge construction, and angular movement. The goal is to build enthusiasm for future possibilities in STEM fields.

At nearby Burns Latino Studies Academy, the COMPASS students are learning about squids. It’s the first time they’ve touched a squid, but by the end of the class, the students can identify the key parts of the squid anatomy, and they’ve learned some interesting facts – including that squids have limited hearing. The experience comes thanks to the Schumann Foundation, who funded a COMPASS environmental science program. Partner programs like Mystic Aquarium bring a treasure trove of sea animals – from squids to lobsters – while other partners, like Knox Hartford, work with students of all ages to build school gardens.

Exposure to STEM becomes all the more important when considering the current level of STEM competency. According to a 2015 study from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, 38% of fourth graders, 34% of eighth graders, and 22% of 12th graders demonstrated proficiency in the sciences. This comes as the demand for STEM-related careers is on the rise, and as employers are increasingly looking to hire candidates who can think critically and creatively.

To contextualize STEM learning, the Schumann Foundation sponsored a four-day excursion to Nature’s Classroom, a residential environmental education program in Charlton, Massachusetts. 15 middle school students camped, hiked, and participated in a variety of hands-on activities; it’s an experience that is particularly formative for students who might not otherwise have the opportunity. According to 7th grader Solmari Figueroa, “it was so nice to be together. We learned so much about different habitats and different animals, and we got to try all kinds of new foods.”

“It was such an amazing time,” concurs Melissa Anderson, a teacher and Education Coordinator for COMPASS who coordinated the trip. “Kids hiked through swamps and found salamanders and learned to call for barred owls. They were able to bring the STEM lessons they learned at  COMPASS to life.”

By: Clare Timmis
Feature Photo Credit: Trinity Students, 2016 | Julie Burbank