After-school Club at Livingston Avenue School Ignites Students' Interest in Science

With help from the Cranford Fund for Educational Excellence and its supporters, students in an after-school club at Livingston Avenue School are discovering just how much fun science and math can be.

Using tools provided by a CFEE grant, students are putting together all kinds of complex gadgets: a remote-control car, an electronic bubble maker, miniature bridges, weight-bearing structures. All the projects reinforce what they’re learning in class.

“Quite frankly, they surprise you, often showing creativity beyond their years,” said Principal Filipe Luis, who applied for the CFEE grant.

Mr. Luis sought the grant because he and fifth-grade teacher Greg D’Amato wanted to try something new: a learning environment in which students would fluidly absorb math, science, and other subjects by coming up with ideas for things to build and then figuring out how to do it.

But they wanted to give the students advanced tools for advanced challenges. Their grant paid for items including K’Nex and LittleBits construction sets that are designed for STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education.

Students have learned how to tackle tough tasks from square one. When told to build a bridge, the students were perplexed at first, but soon taught themselves how to proceed, using the Internet to study the Golden Gate Bridge as their model, Mr. D’Amato said.

Students also constructed model buildings, trying to make them support as many textbooks as possible. Each piece had an assigned “cost” so the students would learn to work within a budget.

“It’s helping develop strong character as much as it is just a club,” Mr. D’Amato said. “They’re learning to persevere through faults in their plan or go with Plan B, and it’s creating, hopefully, real-world innovators.”

One student was especially driven to tackle the math- and engineering-related tasks.

“He’s a completely different person in this club,” Mr. D’Amato said. “I don’t think he realized that he was actually doing the work that he did in class. He flew right through it, and he wanted to keep doing it, and he wanted to be the fact checker for other people.”

“I don’t get a lot of students saying, ‘Hey, can I have more multiplication problems?’ He was actually asking for them,” Mr. D’Amato said.

The club is a means of testing out hands-on, personalized learning experiences that could be applied school-wide, helping students integrate all of their academic skills. “It's almost like a whole day’s worth of individual lessons are all coming together seamlessly,” Mr. Luis said.

“The more freedom we’re able to give students, the more challenging we’re able to make it; the more real-life we’re able to make these activities, the more they enjoy it, and the more they’re going to prosper,” Mr. Luis said.

  • Students on their computers
  • Students on their computers
  • Students on their computers

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