Something really special is happening every Friday at the Beachmont School. Each Friday from 2:45 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., around twenty Beachmont fourth and fifth graders take part in a STEAM (Science, Technology, Art and Math) afterschool club with freshmen from Northeastern University’s School of Engineering.
At a time when most kids want to run out of the school building to start their weekend, these Beachmont students have become totally immersed in STEAM activities with the Northeastern students—and they love it.
Beachmont’s STEAM Director, Christiane Amstutz, explained that the partnership began five years ago, and after some trial and error, the STEAM after-school club has become a success.
“We started the club in January 2019,” said Amstutz. “A group of Northeastern students come every Friday to do STEAM activities with our students as part of their classwork with the School of Engineering.”
Along with Northeastern Professor Katy Schulte Grahame, the university students try to do different kinds of lessons that focus on different kinds of engineering.
“For the most part, the Northeastern students write the lessons, and then they send them to me ahead of time, so I can take a look at them and kind of give them some feedback and some more age-appropriate directions,” said Amstutz. “Then they come in and they run the activity, and I help to facilitate and oversee everything because they're not education students; they're engineering students.”
The club has emerged as something both the Beachmont and Northeastern students look forward to every week.
“It's a really fun program, and it's really successful,” said Amstutz. “When I had to cancel one time because I had to go to a wedding in Connecticut on a Friday, all the kids were like, “What? Noooo.”
Amstutz added that the club has become something many Beachmont students strive to join.
“It's pretty competitive to get into. I make the fourth and fifth graders who are interested actually apply. We've got about 20 kids right now, and that's actually the smallest it's ever been. But we do applications twice a year, so we can get new kids in January.”
The Beachmont and Northeastern students spend these Fridays investigating the principles of engineering or building cool stuff.
“We try to stay away from building towers or bridges,” said Amstutz. “We try to do stuff that is a little more exciting and creative.”
For example, around Halloween, the students had to design and build a candy grabber.
“We had little pieces of candy taped to the wall, and the students couldn't stand closer than three feet,” said Amstutz. “They had to figure out how to get the candy off the wall by building a device using only popsicle sticks, paper clips and tape. So those are the kinds of things that we do in our club.”
Beachmont Principal Christopher Freisen said the students have been totally engaged during the after-school club.
“This is why we started this so many years ago,” said Amstutz. “The whole point is to increase STEM and STEAM engagement and get kids excited. We can do things in the club that we wouldn't normally do in a classroom because we get support from Northeastern, and they help with materials. It's just a great partnership, and it gets kids so excited and helps the engineering students in Northeastern continue their passion and really see what the point of engineering is.”
“It's not community service,” Amstutz added. “It's service learning. They're getting something out of being here, and our kids are getting something out of them being here too. So, it's a mutually beneficial partnership.”
Recently, the fall/winter club culminated in the Northeastern students hosting a ‘Pop-Up STEAM Museum’ at the school as part of their cornerstone requirement. Each engineering student must complete their cornerstone requirement before attaining a bachelor’s degree. It provides the opportunity for students to integrate their curricular and experiential journeys into a multi-semester team project with a real-world outcome.
“During the pop-up museum, the Northeastern students have to treat the Beachmont students as potential clients,” said Amstutz. “It was an opportunity for the Northeastern students to get to know potential clients and know what they're interested in, so that whatever they build is targeted toward the client.”
“They're learning that engineering principle that you don't generally do engineering just for fun; you usually are doing it for a company, a client or somebody who's paying you to build something and do something,” she added. “Their general theme for the museum capstone project at the Beachmont focused on the environment and sustainability.”
Professor Grahame said, “The STEAM club collaboration between Northeastern and the Beachmont School has been a success for many years for both sets of students. We are able to learn so much from each other and the projects designed for the Pop-up Museum are always specially tailored for our elementary friends. Sharing a love for science and engineering together helps everyone grow both technical and communication skills and we look forward to continuing our partnership in the years to come.”
See more photos here