TJ Students Reach Out This Summer: STEMbassadors & Middle School Tech Institute (MSTI)
Student STEMbassadors Encourage Young Learners
Mentoring Young Scholars
Students from TJ and South Lakes HS helped this summer’s Dogwood ES Young Scholars (YS) study the ecology and living things around them (YS is an FCPS initiative intended to increase the proportion of underrepresented students in its Advanced Academic Programs).
Instead of relying on just two teachers, the 22 youngsters in one YS classroom who were examining the question “What does it mean to be a living thing?” could also turn to five student STEMbassadors. The sectioned sheet that a few kids had drawn with the assistance of Pranab Krishnan, TJ ’17, was soon pasted with words they were categorizing as either living or non-living. Kids’ questions ranged from “What is a trout?” and “What is an orchard?” to “What is a microbe?” Teenagers answered and encouraged the youngsters to think more deeply.
In another room, Michelle Ma, a rising senior at South Lakes, prompted her group to think about what processes distinguish living things: “What happens to you over time if you get enough food, water, and oxygen? We’re in 12th grade and you’re in 4th grade. Were we always this big?”
To Linda Martin, Dogwood’s AAP Resource Teacher, STEMbassadors are far more than helpful hands and vocabulary coaches; they provide near-peer, college-track role models for youngsters who may not have any.
For four years, she has invited TJ students to help with Dogwood’s YS Summer Science Academy and an after-school club for girls that focuses on real-world problems and STEM solutions. Formerly called “TJ Mentors,” Dogwood’s classroom assistants served as the inspiration for TJ’s successful three-year-old STEMbassador Program, which now involves students from other high schools and is active at dozens of elementary and middle schools throughout TJ’s multi-county region. This summer alone, STEMbassadors are helping to spread the joys of STEM at over 50 elementary schools, including many with YS Programs.
Everywhere that TJ students live, there are summer and/or school year STEMbassador opportunities as well as opportunities for adult liaisons.
Teaching Summer Courses
Kent Gardens ES, which runs a busy summer camp, put out a call for STEMbassadors to develop and instruct their own week-long “1-hour activity or course” as a supplement to their other camp offerings. The terrific response they received allowed campers to choose from among several STEMbassador-run courses during two daily, hour-long time-slots.
Jens Ertman, TJ ’15, son of Kent Gardens ES STEMbassador liaison Margarita Collantes, teamed with Jackson Salpek, McLean ’15, to teach “Coding” during the summer’s first week, where they attracted a number of hard-core repeat attendees to their introductory Java programming class. When Jens asked, “What do you put in every program?” they jumped out of their seats, yelling, “static, void, main, parenthesis, string.”
“Xplor Science and Technology,” the brainchild of rising TJ freshman Aman Shankardass, was so popular that there weren’t enough chairs in the room. On that particular Thursday, his class featured a hands-on lesson in the density of liquids, using dish soap, canola oil, rubbing alcohol, and both corn and maple syrup.
Anna Zhang, a rising freshman at McLean, taught her classroom full of youngsters how to make an origami frog and had them experiment with different sizes and shapes to see which ones would hop farther or higher.
Camp Director Dr. Galanes-O’Neill, who loves the enrichment provided by STEMbassador-led courses, feels it’s a wonderful opportunity for the STEMbassadors as well: “By having to come up with an activity and teach it, students can build their resumes by giving back to the community in a creative way.”
Students Assist at Middle School Tech Institute
With new classes added every year, TJ’s dynamic Middle School Summer Tech Institute (MSTI) is a resounding success. TJ Director of Student Activities Rusty Hodges, who has run the program for three summers, says he never fails to be surprised by the level of engagement he observes: “Whenever I walk by, the kids are totally absorbed in what they’re doing — it’s really great to see.”
For the fourth straight year, Northrop Grumman donated $25,000 to support the Institute. This year, they were joined by INCOSE, the International Council on Systems Engineering (officers pictured ) and the Washington Space Business Roundtable. One hundred and sixty-five scholarships were distributed this summer, bringing low-income students and those from underrepresented groups to the program. Additional funds were allocated toward technology, equipment, and supplies.
TJ student involvement is growing each year. This summer there were five TJ student volunteers assisting TJ counselor Kerry Hamblin with her “Mythbusters” class, where middle-schoolers create videos showing themselves testing a common belief using the scientific method (right, Angela Ma, TJ ’15, lends a hand — to see a video, use password “Mythbusters”).
For the second summer, Maddie Zug, TJ ’15, (right) assisted the instructor with “Got an App for That?” where even students with no experience design their own apps. Falls Church HS math teacher Dan Tra (left), described her as his “co-teacher and equal partner,” adding, “if I weren’t here, she could teach this class.”