Students become engineers during DeMello ‘STEM Challenges’

Feb 12, 2019

At DeMello Elementary School, students are tackling big problems with experimentation through the school’s new “STEM Challenge” initiative.

It is a not-so-new classroom activity DeMello Principal Catherine Pavao rolled out school-wide at the beginning of the school year.

Several teachers were already introducing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics-based classroom activities on their own, and Pavao felt students would benefit from school-wide challenges.

“It helps students problem solve, work collaboratively, and realize there isn’t always a right answer, and sometimes you’re going to fail,” said teacher Erin Shurtleff.

During STEM Challenges, students are given a problem that they must solve creatively using only the tools and knowledge at their disposal. Students are given 30 minutes to create a design, test it, and, usually, come up with a new design. During the Feb. 11 School Committee meeting, several students brought in their solutions to showcase their innovative thinking.

Ava Constantino, Keiley Cordeiro, and Emily Pereira showed off a water filter made inside a water bottle they made during a “Clean Water For All” challenge.

The filters took several tries to get just right. While one did result in clean water, it left the water discolored - and the students acknowledged they probably won’t want to drink it. By tweaking the order of contaminant-removing substances, they were able to clean and remove color from the water.

Henry Caron shared his igloo he made out of toothpicks and marshmallows, which he had to modify several times due to weakened supports and issues with the design.

Zoe Beckman and Kyleigh Fredette had to design flowers that could float on water. The pair used tissue paper to make the petals, carefully designing them to float.

“We learned not everything goes as planned, and to succeed we have to keep trying,” Beckman said.