Caldwell, N.J., Nov. 21, 2016 – Doctoral education students Marisa Castronova and Jessica Shackil have received a $10,000 Frederick L. Hipp grant from the New Jersey Education Association for a project they created to engage elementary and middle school students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
Castronova teaches seventh-grade life science at Robert R. Lazar Middle School in Montville, New Jersey, and Shackil teaches fourth grade at Intervale Elementary School in Parsippany, New Jersey. They met in their Caldwell University educational leadership doctoral classes. They were recently honored at the NJEA convention along with the other grant recipients.
Seeing the demand in New Jersey and across the nation for students to be prepared to fill STEM jobs, Castronova and Shackil worked together to develop STEM PALS, a cross-district and cross-grade initiative to get students excited about science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Fourth-grade students from Parsippany work alongside seventh-grade students from Montville on STEM challenges. The program emphasizes the value of discourse among students and also stresses the social practices prevalent in the scientific community.
Castronova and Shackil hope STEM PALS will generate excitement and interest at the elementary and secondary levels so that students can build upon these experiences as they continue their academic careers. “We want students to see the value of science and engineering for its ability to explain phenomena and create solutions to fulfill a human want and/or need,” said Castronova.
Some of the projects they have planned for this year are called the marshmallow challenge, the packing peanuts challenge, and the hydroponics challenge. There are also activities related to 3-D printing. Student classrooms work in real time each Thursday via webcams and communicate through a variety of Google tools, including Google docs and Google Hangout. A field trip will also occur toward the end of the school year, allowing STEM PALS to meet face to face.
Castronova and Shackil say they are grateful to Caldwell University where faculty value their ideas and encourage them to develop. “As we continue through Caldwell’s program, we find ourselves taking on a more global perspective toward education. We feel empowered to take risks and create change beyond the four walls of our classroom. STEM PALS was one of those risks,” said Castronova.
Dr. Joan Moriarty, associate dean of the education division, and Dr. Joanne Jasmine, Ph.D., professor of education, say they are proud of Castronova and Shackil’s continued research efforts to make sure they on the cutting edge of student engagement. “This certainly is a hallmark of school leaders promoting teaching and learning,” said Moriarty.
The doctoral students are also thankful to Heather Cook and Ellen Johnston, staff members at the Jennings Library, who guided them in using the 3-D printer for flowerpot designs created by STEM PAL students, which they displayed at a community fundraising event.