Making learning fun

STEMBuds teaches kids STEM in a new way

Staff photo by Hannah LaClaire A student claps to make his rabbit robot start moving

NASHUA – It is common enough for third and fourth grade students to rush through their homework, but to rush through their homework so they can do even more math and science? Well that’s practically unheard of.

And yet, that is exactly what high school junior Ashok Arun has accomplished with STEMBuds.

STEMBuds – a once-per-week, 90-minute afterschool club run by high school volunteers – was started to give students in underprivileged schools easy and fun access to science, technology, engineering and math programs.

The sessions, which last for 27 weeks are divided into math, science and First Lego League, are split into three sessions: the first 30 minutes are devoted to homework help, the next 20 are spent teaching the week’s topic, and the for rest of the class, the kids complete an activity or experiment related to the lesson.

Staff photo by Hannah LaClaire Anish Mukherjee (left), Ashok Arun and Rohan Kumar look at the programming of a robot.

The program works with 21st Century and is run in all five of the Nashua School District’s Title I schools: Dr. Crisp Elementary School, Ledge Street School, Amherst Street Elementary School and Mount Pleasant Elementary School. It reaches more than 100 students.

Recently at Dr. Crisp, the group marked the culmination of nearly six weeks working with Lego robotics.

The students first picked an animal to research, made posters and built their robots based on those animals. One group made a rabbit robot that started when you made a noise, like clapping, and had sensors that made it stop before it ran into anything.

After the presentations were complete, the students voted unanimously to move into the science section next.

“The kids really enjoy it, they’re really excited to learn,” Anish Mukherjee, club co-vice president said.

Staff photo by Hannah LaClaire Sana Shah works with a student to help create his cheetah poster, the animal he based his robot on.

“They never used to be excited for the activity (when they first started), but now they can’t wait to finish their homework so they can get to the activity,” he said.

Mukherjee, Arun, and co-vice president Deepty Srinivasan do their best to create fun, educational and engaging activities for the kids.

Around the holidays, they gave a lesson on anatomy and had the students decorate gingerbread cookies with various parts of the body like the lungs, heart and brain.

They have made lava lamps to teach about density, Mukherjee said.

Yesha Patel, one of the volunteers said they also made “slime” to teach about adhesion and other properties.

And according to the numbers, the programs work.

“At the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year we gave a Math test to the 115 elementary schoolers and the average score was 27 percent.

At the end of the 2016-2017 school year we gave a test with the same topics and the average score was 86 percent. Thirty-two kids got a perfect score,” according to the STEMBuds website.

However, for the volunteers, it’s not just about improving grades.

Many of the volunteers, like Shannon McInnis and Rohan Kumar said that they enjoyed forming relationships with the students.

Patel said that in her family, as well as many of her friends families, their parents pushed an emphasis on education. For the students they teach, however, in low-income families they may not have that kind of role model, or it is less of a priority.

Teaching STEM subjects at a young age, the group agreed, is important.

It can be a “gateway” to “do anything” in the future as Mukherjee said, or as McInnis pointed out, “it’s easier to stick with it and get involved” in later grades if the interest has already been established.

Patel also said that even if the students decide not to follow a STEM path, it teaches kids how to ask for help and builds motivation to do work.

Hannah LaClaire can be reached at 594-1243 or hlaclaire@nashua