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Bringing STEM to life: In cross-pond collaboration, JFK students team up with counterparts in England on water quality projects

  • Teacher Kate Parrott, back, looks on as seventh-grader Madeleine Kruckemeyer, 12, collects a water sample at Look Park May 9, 2017 as part of a Global STEM program at JFK Middle School in Florence. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Seventh-graders including Josie Kirley, 13, left, collect water samples at Look Park May 9 as part of a Global STEM program at JFK Middle School in Florence. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Seventh-graders test water samples for fecal coliform bacteria May 9, 2017 as part of a Global STEM program at JFK Middle School in Florence. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Seventh-graders Saenger Breen, 12, left, Day Stavely Hale, 13, and Christopher Jamieson, 13, test water samples taken from Look Park for fecal coliform bacteria on May 9 as part of the Global STEM program. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Teacher Kate Parrott instructs seventh-graders on how to collect water samples as part of a Global STEM program at JFK.

  • A student collects a water sample as part of the Global STEM program at JFK Middle School in Florence.

  • Seventh-graders Madison Carrier, 13, left, Caroline Cooper, 12, and Kaitlin Aquilino, 12, test water samples taken from Look Park for acidity as part of a Global STEM program. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Teacher Kate Parrott, back, looks on as seventh-grader Josie Kirley, 13, collects a water sample at Look Park May 9 as part of a Global STEM program at JFK Middle School in Florence. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY



@amandadrane
Tuesday, May 16, 2017

NORTHAMPTON — Seventh-graders in the community room of JFK Middle School scoot their chairs toward the front of the room as three uniformed boys appear on a large screen.

“Hello! Hello! Hola!” pipe voices from the screen.

The American students wave in slow circles to their U.K. counterparts, and the uniformed boys in England mirror the gesture.

“This is how the queen waves!” one student says as the two classrooms exchange royal waves from across the Atlantic.

Then, the two classrooms break into groups to work on their projects — all pertaining to water quality.

From water production at the International Space Station to monitoring public water supplies, each team participating in the Northampton district’s new Global STEM project tackles a different aspect of water and how humans need it pure to survive.

What separates the Global STEM — which stands for science, technology, engineering and math — elective from other science courses? They’re collaborating with same-aged students in the U.K. on their projects, they had to be handpicked for the team and they had to be willing to commit to work outside of the classroom.

The district rolled out the project in September, beginning with JFK and Jackson Street School. Next year, Superintendent John Provost says, the program will expand to Ryan Road School.

“The really interesting part of this is the opportunity for collaboration, in addition to the project,” he says. “It’s preparing students for a future work environment where they may be collaborating with colleagues all over the world.”

The two classrooms had to work out time differences, and Provost says the American students were surprised to see their classmates across the Atlantic all wore uniforms.

During a recent class period JFK students divide into their groups, comprised of three or four students, and open up their laptops. Facilitator Molly McLoughlin, the digital literacy and computer science coordinator for Northampton schools, mills around, ensuring each group establishes their overseas connection. One by one, smiling faces appear on the screens.

The overseas students attend Finham Park 2 in Coventry, England.

In one group, the American students send along a YouTube video by Amwater Corp, breaking down the water treatment process in the U.S. The U.K. students watch, hands-to-face, as the audio blasts on both screens.

In another group, Kamini Waldman, 13, explains what a BRITA filter is to her U.K. peers. “Do you guys have those?” she asks.

“There’s also chlorine and flouride in our water, so they filter those out,” says Madison Carrier, 13.

NASA is infused throughout the program, down to the training the teachers receive.

“I really feel we’re on the cutting edge of something new here,” Provost says.

“It’s pretty cool, though, to learn how things work in space,” says Lucy Bernhard, 13, of her group’s project on water supply at the International Space Station.

Next year, science teachers Kate Parrott and Lynn Cook hope to tackle climate change as the overarching topic.

They’re also working to land Northampton Education Foundation funding to build a craft that can travel from the shores of Massachusetts to those of their peers across the pond, collecting data along the way.

“Our U.K. counterparts are committed to capturing it, wherever it may land,” Parrott says.

The class has an upcoming field trip to Woods Hole, whose employees have agreed to help with the project. The data students collect will help government officials in their efforts to track climate change through the NASA GLOBE program.

To get into the course, students had to write an essay. Part of the coursework happens during the school day, but much of it — like the freshwater data collection — happens after school.

“The kids who are here are really committed,” Cook says.

The science of it all is one thing, but the cultural exchange is one benefit not to be overlooked. The Northampton students, for instance, learned that fidget spinners are huge in the U.K. right now, and that their peers across the pond remind them a bit of Hogwarts, with their uniforms and head boy, head girl.

And the U.K. students learned their American peers don’t sit around eating corn dogs all day.

“It seems like they have better food than us,” Caroline Cooper, 12, said of her newfound knowledge of Yorkshire pies.

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@gazette-net.com.