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'STEAM Ahead' hosts inventor and the governor

New Hampshire Union Leader

May 14. 2015 8:43PM

Inventor Dean Kamen and Pat Snow, innovation director, Manchester School District, point out a list of core values posted on a classroom wall at McLaughlin Middle School during a FIRST Junior STEAM Ahead in Manchester on Thursday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — Before Gov. Maggie Hassan went upstairs to see the Green Acres fourth-grade FIRST Junior STEAM Ahead program in action Thursday, she got an overview on teamwork.

Hassan met with Adam Brodeur and Kira Harrison, both 10, who explained how the students work as teams to create programs to enable LEGO robots to perform tasks.

Adam said teams of four people collaborate. “We all work together,” he said. “We are all like a family in a house and a house in a community.”

Sitting with the children was LEGO Man, also known as Dan Hughes, who said he travels around the state, working on this program for fourth-graders, mentoring as part of inventor Dean Kamen’s FIRST Robotics team. The students “inspire all of us as mentors,” he said.

Kamen, who was on hand for the event, continues to search for ways to excite young people about the elements of STEM — science, technology, engineering and math. In the Manchester schools, arts is also included, resulting in STEAM.

The FIRST Junior STEAM Ahead program, piloted in the Beech Street, Jewett and Green Acres schools this year and expanding to the Northwest, Gossler Park, Parker Varney and Wilson schools next year, will be in all Manchester elementary schools by 2017.

There’s not enough room at Green Acres School, so the students travel next door to McLaughlin Middle School once a week for a 90-minute session,

Kamen’s drive to engage young people began in 1989 with the FIRST Robotics competition for kids in grades 9-12. There are now programs for all grade levels, down to the Junior FIRST LEGO League for grades K-3.

Key to all the programs are mentors, experts from business and industry, who can assist their young mentees. But Adam Brodeur, the fourth-grader, emphasized to the governor, “They are there to help; not to do it for us.”

“There’s an absolute need” for the program, said Hughes.

Hassan agreed, saying children across the state need to have the same opportunity for learning and engagement as do the children in this pilot program.

Kamen kept talking about a hypothetical situation in which the state assisted in creating a platform that would enable would-be mentors to communicate with students throughout the state.

Speaking to the students in their “lab,” Hassan said the program is a way to ensure that after graduation, “You have lots of choices about what you want to do.”

Green Acres Principal Richard Norton said approximately 110 children are in the program and it has already shown benefits not only in technical learning, but also in personal development for participants.

The robot program has eight or nine “missions” and it takes collaboration, with each team member having to master each step, before progressing to the next. It can’t be one member of the team doing it all, with the others taking orders.

Green Acres teacher Karen Berube said she’s not a computer whiz.

“It was like Greek to me,” she said, but she is learning and is very pleased that it is a fourth-grade program. But she said it’s an adjustment for someone used to working from lesson plans.

Berube said she has taught older grades and found that in fifth and sixth grades, girls tend to pull back from math and science.

“They are retreating,” she said. The fourth-grade girls are so engaged in this program, she said, that she hopes the experience and confidence will keep them engaged in STEAM as they get older, wanting to learn more.

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