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Passion for STEAM Ignited at Lower School Fair
Louise Schultze, Communications

For over 50 years, Nueva students have enjoyed an educational journey designed for gifted learners. Known as The Nueva Way, it is student-centered, interdisciplinary, and inquiry-based. Nueva faculty help students learn subjects by doing, and inspire their passion for lifelong learning. Recently, Lower School students were given the opportunity to conduct scientific experiments and test their own theories and results at a celebration of science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM). 

The first of its kind for the Lower School, the STEAM Fair on Friday, March 15, showcased student curiosity, exploration, and experimentation in projects ranging from building a labyrinth, to mushroom discoveries and coral reef studies. Students were also given the opportunity to dive into independent STEAM projects at home and present them to an advisory panel of parent and teacher volunteers. Independent STEAM projects based on student interest included cupcake chemistry, a gravity calculator, a study of rainbow reflections and refractions, how toilets work, and Corgi biophysics. 

“Our goal for the Lower School STEAM Fair was to get more students engaged in pursuing projects they were curious about, and this has been such a success in the number of kids participating and their level of excitement,” said Lower School Head Megan Terra. “The panelists were blown away by the variety and creativity of the kids.”

Each Lower School classroom spent the day utilizing inquiry and experiential learning to investigate topics of interest and study. The PreK and kindergarten classes joined forces to learn about mushrooms on campus and used clay to design and shape unique mushrooms, which would later be fired in a kiln and painted. First and third graders studied the ocean, and created a coral reef game that considered human impact, natural forces, and climate change as catalysts for adaptations of coral plants and animals in the Pacific Ocean. 

“It was really fun to see the kids go deeper, work together, and make personalized choices in project-based learning,” said Lora Saarnio, Lower School Math and Science Specialist. “The third graders are loving going around and mentoring the first graders, and it was really sweet to see their SEL skills put to use as they listened to their buddies to find what they’re interested in learning and exploring next.”

Fourth graders built a labyrinth in the Outdoor Classroom using rocks and other found materials as part of their studies of Greek mythology. The labyrinth featured numerous pathways for students to enjoy quiet contemplation as they navigated their way through the maze, while stumbling upon stories and illustrations based on Ancient Greece.  

“It was a joy to see math, science, humanities, arts – you name it! This was such a celebration of the power of STEAM to spark curiosity, playfulness, and how you can use STEAM projects to make the world a better place,” said Megan. “It’s also a celebration of our students digging in to what they're passionate about and sharing that with the community.”

Each March, Nueva hosts a popular STEM Fair with a wide array of hands-on activities, exhibits, and talks for students, parents, and visitors from the community to discover and enjoy the wonders of science, technology, engineering and math. This year’s event on Sunday, March 17, featured Upper School student presentations of biology and chemistry projects, design engineering for good, creative STEM games and activities, as well as a dissection lab where students had the opportunity to cut into and explore sheep lungs, cow hearts, and cow’s eyes. Many students noted that their interests in the STEM Fair projects they worked on were shaping ideas for their potential careers.

A Nueva first grader, Arya L. worked with her father to dissect a cow’s eye to see the optic nerve. “My dad is an eye doctor, and I want to be like him someday,” she said, followed by, “Ooooh look, a muscle!”

With popular Innovation Labs on both campuses – plus Math Circles, environmental and ecological studies, design engineering, and robotics – Nueva has a deep commitment to STEM explorations. Several Nueva students have taken their interests further, competing in STEM Fairs locally and nationally. Middle schoolers Colin C., Rohan T., Mason C., David F., and upper school students Andrew C. and Jacob L., were recognized at the San Mateo County STEM Fair in early March, winning first and second place winnings for their STEM projects. Seventh grader Mason C. created a gin rummy algorithm to determine optimal strategies to win the game. He will compete at the state competition, the California Science and Engineering Fair, later this month in Los Angeles. Ninth grader Jack A. recently was recognized with the Robert Wood Johnson Award for Health Advancement by Broadcom Masters for his machine learning project, “Predicting the Future: Using Machine Learning to Forecast the Progression of Alzheimer’s Disease.”

“I’m always so impressed with the work our students are doing,” said Upper School Head Stephen Dunn. “Science is everywhere!"

Rainbow Reflections Project Students play with Robots Millipied Pouring green water


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