Pleasant Street students get early start on science skills


LACONIA — Fourth graders and kindergartners at the Pleasant Street Elementary School teamed up for a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) project Thursday afternoon in which they designed safe landing spaces for Barbie dolls using 10 cotton balls and 10 pieces of tissue paper.

They were joined for their joint exercise by Dr. Yvonne Spicer of the National Center for Technological Literacy at the Museum of Science in Boston, who was making her second visit to the school in recent months and her sixth visit to city schools.

Spicer joined the program which was in progress after making a stop at the Laconia Middle School, where eighth graders partner with their fourth-grade counterparts from Pleasant Street School on a variety of STEM projects.
She is the vice president for Advocacy and Educational Partnerships, which has a goal of inspiring the next generation of innovators, inventors and engineers by having students start at an early to learn how to apply science, math and engineering to solve real world problems.

Pleasant Street School fourth grade age teacher Whitney McCallum showed students a video of people jumping from a tower onto a large inflatable device which cushioned their landing. She then distributed Barbie dolls, including at least one Ken doll, to student teams which combined fourth graders and kindergartners, who were then had to use the cotton balls and tissue paper to design a landing spot for the dolls and then draw pictures of their designs.

After several attempts in which the dropped Barbie dolls did not make safe landings, most of the students modified their techniques and crumpled or tore the tissue paper to provide softer landing areas.

Following the joint session with kindergartners the fourth graders returned to their room, where they utilized rubber bands to create bungee jumping Barbies and measured the impact of using additional rubber bands on how far the doll falls and then creating a line graph from the data they collected.

Finnian Mousseau, 9, a fourth grader, said that he had learned a lot from the STEM classes and said that one recent fun activity involved using toothpicks to go mining for chocolate chips in chocolate chip cookies. ''It was like living in the Gold Rush.'' said Mousseau.

He said that another fun activity involved using popsicle sticks, spoons and rubber bands to create a pumpkin launcher for launching candy pumpkins.

Another learning opportunity was an exercise with eighth graders in which he discovered that heated air molecules are needed to inflate balloons as the heat makes them expand while cold air molecules will clump together and sink rather than rise.

''There's a lot you can do with science. I like the Museum of Science because you get to see how machines work and there are lots of hands-on things to do that help you learn'' says Mousseau.