Webster second-graders (from left) Joan Pancho, David Weiss and Aidan Wigfall test the buoyancy of a tinfoil boat with pennies.

Hands-On Lessons Charge Full STEAM Ahead

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NEW ROCHELLE, NY — Folding sheets of tinfoil, second-graders at Daniel Webster Magnet School created boats to float in small basins of water, then dropped pennies in one at a time until they sank.

From narrow canoe-like craft to flat-bottomed vessels, the boats helped students discover which designs made the most sense (and held the most cents.)

“We can do more!” Aidan Wigfall said as a boat his group devised took on its 26th penny – the number that had sunk their previous attempt. 

Floating boats and wafting parachutes have become the engineering activities that continue to expand in the school, ensuring that the students never run out of STEAM. The school’s programs in Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics began two years ago as activities for kindergarten through second grade. The school added third grade last year and fourth grade this year. For the fourth grade, they have adopted curricula from the Brooklyn Children’s Museum.

“We want to have the students experiment with real world problems,” said Dawn Huston, the school’s instructional technology facilitator and STEAM instructor. “We want them to broaden their minds and to become young engineers.”

Some of the lessons are based on fairy tales, but feature challenges and solutions from real-world physics. The first-graders build towers out of cardboard tubes and construction paper, then add methods for Rapunzel to escape, such as a zip-line or trampoline, for instance.

As the lessons work their way through the grades, the students begin to pick up scientific concepts earlier.

“A question that I asked the third-graders last year I have to ask the second-graders this year,” Huston said.

Student Joan Pancho devised the most efficient boat – a craft that held 80 pennies. Classmate Indiana Twist also exceeded most of the others with a 66-penny boat.

“If you spread out the pennies, then it makes it less dense than water, so it floats,” Twist said.