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Picture of students building towers during Space Day

SUNY Plattsburgh, Other Nonprofits Help Young Scientists Look to the Future

By Matt McDonald
October 2013

In an old lakeside garage at the Champlain Valley Transportation Museum, local middle school students wear NASA badges. Thirty-five of them huddle around tables in teams of four or five. They test strategies, bounce ideas, fight the clock and periodically start over.

With a limited supply of pipe cleaners, tape, pens, clothes pins and crumpled paper, they construct masterpieces — Popsicle-stick towers.

Crafting the ‘Mobile Museum’

Space Day was made possible by the museum, SUNY Plattsburgh’s Northcountry Planetarium and Cornell Cooperative Extension. Seeing the need for more experiential class content in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the trio formed the North Country STEM Collaborative and began work on a “mobile museum” — portable STEM activity kits the collaborative hopes will shape science curricula in local schools. Students at Space Day gave the kits a test run.

The project was funded by a NASA Youth Development Grant — one of 172 awarded nationally.

Building Skills

After the initial teambuilding and tower-raising activity, students went on to work with star charts, bottle rockets and solar-system models. They also created their own planispheres — homemade tools that map the stars.

“This gets kids engaged,” said museum Kids Station Volunteer Kristine Mulvihill. “It’s fun to watch these kids and see what they come up with.”

Mulvihill’s colleague Amy Bonn said STEM learning builds students’ problem-solving skills. “It’s about critical thinking and lateral thinking. It helps them learn to work in teams to solve problems.”

Space Day was the second step in the collaborative’s project. The first was a teacher workshop and focus group. The next will be visits to regional public schools to help teachers use the kits.

Northcountry Planetarium Director Lisabeth Moore Kissner, one of the program’s organizers, said the collaborators hope the project will have a lasting impact on students, inspiring them to continue their STEM studies.

For more information on the program, contact Kissner at (518) 564-3162 and [email protected].

Photo of Matt McDonaldMatt McDonald is a senior English writing arts major with minors in journalism and marketing. He is a resident assistant in Whiteface Hall, a tour guide for admissions, a writing tutor in the Learning Center and a public relations intern for the Office of Marketing and Communications in Institutional Advancement. As vice president of Platty Slack, he slacklines as often as he can and frequently enjoys the outdoors, hiking, skiing, camping and seeking random adventures.


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