School specialist helping to blend science, humanities

Nov 17, 2017

Third-graders at Rochester Memorial School found an innovative way to study weather this fall—they built wetus.

A wetu is the traditional house of the Wampanoags, the Native American nation which once inhabited southeastern Massachusetts, amongst other areas. The third-graders, who were learning about the Wampanoags, built miniature models of a Wampanoag wetu, and tested out their ability to handle the weather.

"The students simulated wind and rain and studied how the weather affected the wetus," said the school's STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) specialist, Karen DellaCioppa. "It was a cross-discipline project."

Incorporating multiple disciplines into projects, DellaCioppa told Rochester's School Committee on November 15, has been a focus during her year as the school's new STEM specialist. She is the first to hold the position, which was created last year after the school's math specialist retired.

She provided other examples; kindergarten students made hypotheses and tested them, deciding whether or not an apple would float. First-graders learned about the solar system while making models, and second-graders built birdhouses. Fourth-graders, she said, had fun working with "Ozobots." The pocket-size robots can be coded to follow certain directions.

DellaCioppa works with teachers who are unused to new science standards—MCAS science standards have changed with the advent of the new MCAS testing system, "Next Generation."

"We do a lot of brainstorming, and looking at what the students are already studying in class," she said. "That's how we came up with the idea of studying the weather by building a wetu and testing it—the students were already learning about Wampanoags in their social studies classes."