It's full STEAM ahead at Portsmouth elementary school

Melville students display teamwork in problem-solving


PORTSMOUTH — Erika Magilton said she’s seen a noticeable change in the way her students interact and work together since a Makerspace was established at Melville School last September.

“I think the biggest change I’ve seen with my kids is the conversations that it’s opened and the way they communicate with each other in the Makerspace and the way that the activities and the robots and the different things that we do really promote teamwork,” the third-grade teacher said. 

That became evident during Melville’s second annual STEAM Week, which put the Makerspace in the spotlight. Educators say the space, which takes up one classroom at both Melville and Hathaway schools, helps prepare students with critical 21st century skills in science, technology, engineering, art and math — otherwise known as STEAM.

And make no mistake: Kids are also having a lot of fun at Makerspace, which they visit at least once a week for 45 minutes.

“The kids come in so excited and they leave just as excited,” said Michelle Polselli, who retired last year after 34 years of teaching in Portsmouth but not before she helped get the Makerspace established. “They can’t wait to come back to Makerspace. It’s bubbly. There’s lots of noise and movement.”

You won’t get any argument from James Hacket, a 9-year-old science enthusiast.

“It’s fun,” said James, who likes to build Lego robots and use the Rigamajig building kit, which is made up of wooden planks, wheels, pulleys, nuts, bolts and rope. “They’re like these big wood blocks and they go together with nuts and bolts.”

In between all the fun, there’s some real team problem-solving going on, teachers said.

“I think it’s the best thing that’s happened in a long time as far as teaching and the students collaborating together to find an answer to a problem we might pose,” said Ms. Polselli. “Instead of looking through a book, they have to work together as a team.”

Ms. Magilton said she incorporates Makerspace in many ways, and not just in science. “I use it in my math block; we use the robots to play different math games. We use the Green Screen for literacy — kids presenting their books, their writing and their information.”

During STEAM week, students were making videos using the Green Screen outside their classrooms. 

“We’re doing a poem and we’re putting images into it so we can have a video and have the background of our poem in it,” explained Kelsey Borden, a second-grader who was working with two other classmates. “Once you learn it once, it’s kind of easy.” 

Visitors led way

During STEAM Week, the school invited several guests in, including Liz DeLucia from the Naval War College Museum. She challenged teams of third-graders to make tinfoil “boats” and test how many pennies they could hold without sinking in a tub of water. One team, Titanic, managed 36 coins.

“They’re learning about buoyancy,” said Ms. DeLucia.

In another unit, music teacher Karen Anghinetti taught first-graders about pitch and sound by showing them how to make their own instruments. Raytheon volunteers led a “Math Moves You in Engineering” program, while Herb Cline of iRobot let students take their turns controlling an automated vacuum, an underwater pool-sweeper and a robotic gutter-cleaner. Portsmouth Middle School robotics students also visited to show younger students what they’ve built.

“One of the things that’s key is the engineering design process, which didn’t really exist in the elementary school until recently,” said Erin Escher, the district’s K-8 instructional science coach. “The NAEP scores — the national science testing — are actually up about four points and they’re attributing it to the new engineering standards.”

Melville Principal Elizabeth Viveiros, who was running around school to see what each grade was working on during STEAM Week, said she was struck by all the youthful energy and imagination at work.

“It’s amazing to see the children at such a young age — what they can do and what they can create together,” she said.


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