WESTFIELD – Westfield Technical Academy hosted all of the Grade 8 students from Westfield Middle School on Tuesday and Thursday at its first annual WTA STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Showcase in recognition of Governor Charlie Baker’s statewide STEM Week. 400 students in eight groups rotated through the Career Technical programs, and had the opportunity to do a hands-on exploration in each.
“This will provide them a real-world context for thinking about Science, Technology Engineering, and Math and building deeper awareness of STEM linkages in a wide variety of career clusters and pathways,” posted WTA Principal Joseph Langone.
WTA Student Services Coordinator Robert Ollari had the idea, which Lauren Figy, Supervisor of Science, Technology and Engineering and Kate Perez, Supervisor of Math for grades 7-12 in the district helped to organize into the Showcase. “We are taking all 400 8th graders in four groups. Each student got to experience four different shops. Each shop got to focus on one of the four STEM disciplines,” Figy said.
The team said the idea is to expose students to ideas for future career paths, and to relate STEM to careers, something they said the students don’t necessarily see.
Figy did a pre- and post-survey of the students to see if their ideas around the STEM field changed after their visit. She said before this week, they thought only scientists, mathematicians and engineers used STEM. “Now they’ve added construction, nursing, and electrical as STEM fields,” she said.
“Even though they’re four different letters, they’re all related. For the first time, the kids got to see that as well,” added Perez.
“It was awesome. It went really well. The students all said they really enjoyed it,” Figy said
In Culinary Tech, the eighth grade students were learning about molecular gastronomy and ionic spherification techniques, the chemistry of cooking. Seniors Joshua Monette, Anastasia Frogameni, and Joe Crean demonstrated the technique of dipping honey melon into water, adding chemicals, and creating tiny bubbles of melon. They added the bubbles to yogurt, and let the students sample it.
“It’s pretty easy to explain. A lot of them are really fascinated by it. Some came up for thirds and fourths,” the senior said.
“This is really neat. They seem really interested in it. I love seeing the seniors owning it and being proud to do this,” said Chef Phil Mucciarone.
On the visit to Horticulture, students learned about hydraulics on a backhoe. They also got to practice using the machine by picking up a basketball and putting it in a basket. In the last class on Thursday, all eight students got it in. Instructor Nathan Sperry said in some earlier classes only two students managed to do it. Students also learned about growing vegetables with hydroponics in the class.
In Manufacturing Tech, students were able to use machinery to engrave key chains. “I like it, this is really cool. I didn’t know we were going to be able to make something,” said eighth grader Allie Masciadrelli. .
Instructor Gary Nadeau asked the students what fields they were interested in, and said they should consider manufacturing. He said 50% of his students go to college for engineering, and many get paid by the companies where they work for their degrees. “I love seeing all the young people. It was awesome. They’re all rock stars,” Nadeau said about the class.
Collision Tech instructor Alvin Brown told the students he got started in the field at age 13, when he helped out at a shop to be able to repaint his bike. “I wanted to make my bike cooler,” he said, adding that they shouldn’t be afraid to work for free, if they are being repaid with a priceless skill.
Learning all about the chemical composition of paint, students were then able to put on virtual reality goggles and paint a car door with a simulator. Brown said they use the painting simulation to practice distance, speed, how much paint to use, and how much is wasted in the atmosphere.
WMS 7/8 grade science teacher Matthew Preye said his students were showing interest in the classes. “They’re enjoying it. As it progressed, more and more are into it,” Preye said.
The Aviation Maintenance Tech class had the students make paper planes, and learn about the four components of flight. Allied Health taught about the circulatory system. Students in Information Technology learned about binary numbers, and Graphic Arts visited the community radio studio.
“Special thanks to Science and Technology Supervisor Lauren Figy, Math Supervisor Kate Perez, Career Technical Education Director Peter Taloumis, Student Services Coordinator Rob Ollari, WTA Guidance Counselor Carol Groom, WTA shop instructors, Director of Transportation Pam Kotarski, WMS Guidance Counselor Lindsay Michalik, and many others for helping to put this event together,” said Superintendent Stefan Czaporowski about the STEM Showcase.
“It’s the first time we’ve ever done anything like this as a district. It was very interactive. Even for many of the staff to come and see the real life applications, it was very beneficial to them in their teaching – making connections,” Taloumis added.