Eastchester parent Beryn Corham’s son came home excited from school. “He couldn’t wait to tell me what happened that day at assembly,” she says. And teachers are thrilled too. According to Westchester teachers, nothing makes a kid’s eyes open wider than holding a piece of rebar (reinforcing steel) like that used in the new Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge or a strand from one of the stay cables that support the main span roadway.
Magic definitely happens when the New NY Bridge Project’s educational outreach team brings the state’s largest infrastructure into classrooms. During the past five years, the team has visited more than 60,000 students in the tri-state region and made hundreds of presentations to Westchester students, providing opportunities to see and feel construction materials and safety equipment and get them thinking about STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.
Each year the educational outreach program focused on specific aspects of the project.
• Year One (2013-14): Discovery/Geo-tech of the Hudson River
• Year Two (2014-15): Building a Strong Foundation
• Year Three (2015-16): Teamwork and Innovation
• Year Four (2016-17): Bridge Rising
“Looking back, whether it was explaining bridges to a kindergartener or answering complex questions from a high schooler, the real joy was seeing students make the connection between information and understanding,” Public Outreach Coordinator Andrew P. O’Rourke, Jr., says.
The New NY Bridge Project’s educational outreach team can tailor presentations to specific groups and clubs as they did at the WizGirls conference hosted by American Association of University Woman Westchester (AAUW) that encourages girls to explore engineering and computer science.
“WizGirls is an offshoot of AAUW Westchester’s Explore Your Opportunities conference for seventh-graders at the College of Mount St. Vincent in Riverdale that explores all four STEM fields,” program leader Diona Koerner says.
Female scientists lead hands-on workshops and serve as role models for the students. “We chose this [age] group to attract the girls early when they’re still interested, and they’re excited about it,” Koerner continues. “Last year we had a huge response.”
New NY Bridge Project Director Jamey Barbas explained tension and compression to a group of sixth- and seventh-grade girls during a fall 2016 WizGirls conference, after which they applied their new knowledge by assembling mini LEGO® bridges. “Events like [these] are unique opportunities to bring awareness to young women of careers in engineering,” she says.
During the project’s early years, White Plains Public Library (WPPL) had a Build With K’NEX! program, in which kids built models of the I Lift NY super crane and the new bridge with the colorful plastic pieces.
“It’s an opportunity for kids, while they’re doing something fun, to gain math and engineering skills, to learn how things fit together – shapes, sizes,” says former WPPL children’s librarian Terry Rabideau. “It’s an opportunity to have fun and be creative.”
When the bridge’s main span towers were being built, the project’s Tarrytown and Nyack Outreach Centers added a mini tower crane challenge: participants had to place the tiny construction crew member on a target below using the crane’s controls.
Dan Marcy, who leads presentations with O’Rourke, notes, “Educators are often looking for real-world applications for what they teach in the classroom. Over the years, it has been remarkable to witness how enthusiastic students have been about this project and how they’ve embraced complicated engineering principles, construction components and problem solving.”
“Learning doesn’t take place in a bubble, and the various components of STEM overlap,” Chairperson and President of STEM Alliance of Larchmont-Mamaroneck, Meg Käufer, explains.
The Alliance’s annual festival at Hommocks Middle School in March drew more than 1,200 kids, teens and adults into three hours of fun and learning. Throughout the free Friday night event, attendees could choose activity stations and pre-registration workshops with STEM challenges including a physics lesson in bridge building from O’Rourke, plus marshmallow launchers and a chess master playing multiple games at once.
The annual Lower Hudson Valley Engineering Expo, which held its 15th Expo on April 15, brings more than 100 engineering firms, engineering colleges and public agencies together to introduce students to engineering and technology careers, according to McLaren Engineering Group President and CEO Malcolm G. McLaren, PE.
This West Nyack-based firm is a major benefactor and organizer of the event that incorporates numerous engineering fields whereas it once focused primarily on civil engineering, according to McLaren.
Attendance has grown, attracting students, colleges and corporations from a large geographic area. One typical and interesting observation was of a student who, initially hesitant to walk through the door, became so absorbed he was reluctant to leave when his mother called to him.
More than 200 students attended Heathcote School’s March HExpo workshops. “It was hands-on, daylong and feedback was positive,” fifth-grade teacher Christine Boyer says. “The kids loved it and saw it as having fun, digging deeper and learning.” When they were using screwdrivers to take appliances apart, “the wheels were turning, and the learning was happening.”
“One of the greatest joys was seeing students’ eyes light up after answering their questions because it unlocked the door to knowledge, ignited their curiosity and gave them a personal connection to the project as they watched history rising in their own backyards,” says O’Rourke who participated in the event.
In the STEM program that Claremont Elementary School teacher Micki Lockwood designed for her third- and fourth-grade students at Ossining Union Free School District, the younger grade studies electricity, and the older one studies bridges.
Samantha, a Claremont student, loves stem “because I get to experience science, technology, and engineering and math projects at a very young age,” while her classmate Sienna enjoys the variety of activities. “We have a chance to ask questions, imagine and plan and then we create things and talk about how we can improve them.”
Lockwood’s students used K’NEX and LEGO® bricks to study and build bridges with a special emphasis on the new bridge. “We spent a lot of time focusing on cable-stayed bridges since this amazing project is happening one town away from us,” Lockwood says.
Technology teacher Anthony Rich introduced 3D design to his students at Greenvale and Anne Hutchinson Schools in the Eastchester Union Free School District by using a web-based program called TinkerCAD about three years ago.
“The fourth- and fifth-graders get a half-year of Coding with a program called Scratch and a half-year of 3D design and printing,” Rich explains. While the older children create their own designs, the younger students are learning program basics and concepts.
Ducky, a fourth-grade student at Anne Hutchinson School in Eastchester, likes 3D printing “because I can create anything I can imagine and I can invent and print new things. It lets you have the ability to imagine, plan, then build anything you want.”
Käufer sums it up nicely. “STEM is important because it gets kids thinking in new ways and changes their thought processes. There’s no minor league for STEM.”
ArtsWestchester celebrated the new bridge as a work of art at its gala 2017 fundraiser last November as CEO Janet Langsam feels STEAM education (adding the arts to STEM) is crucial to educating the next generation of creative thinkers. “Art increases motivation, enhances communication and expression and, like science, it helps inspire innovation and critical thinking,” she says.
Janie Rosman is a freelance writer and editor based in New York and whose work appears in local, regional and national publications.
Photo Credit: Alison Mäertins, 2018
Photo Caption: Julpiter Joe’s Astronomy activity allows kids to control a robtic arm at Larchmont’s Hommocks Middle School STEM event.