An inflated balloon taped to a drinking straw hangs on a kite string stretched across a Washington Elementary School classroom.
Pre-kindergarten student Isaac Rivera Arce holds the balloon. Visiting Jefferson Elementary School fifth-grader Kayla Pichardo signals to Isaac to release the balloon. Isaac lets go, and the balloon rocket sails across the room.
Both students flash a smile at the successful demonstration of forward motion.
The experiment is part of Harvard’s new STEM Buddies program that pairs fifth-graders with pre-K students for lessons related to the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.
Beginning this fall, Jefferson Elementary fifth-graders visit Washington Elementary to conduct experiments with their younger partners.
“All fifth-grade students and all of the pre-K classes are participating. STEM offers students an opportunity to collaborate, lead, develop a growth mindset and, of course, learn,” fifth-grade teacher Erin Kruckenberg said.
Activities include engineering challenges such as constructing bridges made of dry spaghetti to see how much weight they can withstand before breaking.
“Our data suggests we benefit from expanded opportunities in math and science, and STEM Buddies provides a unique avenue of learning for our students,” Washington Principal Steve Torrez said.
Citing educational researcher John Hattie, Torrez said he found that the use of student peers as educators allows students to take control of their learning.
“It was incredible to see the similarities in content from early childhood to fifth grade,” Torrez said. “We started with forces of gravity, a fifth-grade standard, and linked that to preschool learning, such as observing, asking questions, solving problems and drawing conclusions.”
The program has had an effect on Kruckenberg’s students.
“Jefferson students love it,” she said. “They leave Washington beaming with pride and joy. Some of my students have commented on how important they felt. They loved taking the lead and guiding pre-K students through the activities.
“Students have made comments about how they were in those classes only five years ago. They were impressed with themselves at how much they have learned in that short time. One student even said, ‘Imagine what we will learn in the next five.’ ”