STEAM Conference by and for Kids – KIC @ RIC

A parade of scientists three-feet-tall, in white lab coats, marched single file down the hall of Henry Barnard School (HBS) for a gathering in the gymnasium. There they met up with more than 200 other children, from pre-K to fifth grade, for the start of the STEAM Kids Inquiry Conference (KIC @ RIC).

Held on May 5, HBS students shared their STEM, STEAM and STREAM experiments conducted over the course of the spring semester, in the same way professional scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians meet to share their findings from experiments.

Jeannine Magliocco

In attendance were invited guests, teachers and parents, RIC faculty and students, and other members of the college community. HBS Principal Jeannine Magliocco opened the conference in the gymnasium with an introduction, after which break-out sessions took place in individual classrooms.

“The Kids Inquiry Conference at Rhode Island College gave the entire Henry Barnard School community the opportunity to celebrate science and the research of the 235 scientists who participated,” said Magliocco. “It goes beyond the science fair. It shows how far science learning and pedagogy has come from the decades of combing textbooks for answers. I am proud of the accomplishments of the teachers and learners of Henry Barnard School.”

STEAM projects began with testable questions, ranging from how polar attraction and repulsion works using magnets to which kinds of foods generate enough energy to light an incandescent light bulb.

In break-out sessions, teams of students gave 10-minute multimedia presentations or hands-on demonstrations – two different methods of sharing the processes and results of their investigations.

Magliocco noted that “the research inquiry of HBS learners was exciting and diverse” and that the “scientists wowed their audiences with their findings.” 

The conference included tours of Rhode Island College’s STEM labs, where children met with faculty scientists, technologists and engineers to learn how they conduct research and the type of equipment they use in their labs.

In the biology lab, led by RIC Associate Professor of Biology Eric Roberts, students observed cells under a microscope.

“When you look at anything that’s alive,” Roberts said, “whether it’s a plant, a person or an earthworm, and you magnify it big enough, what you’ll find is that every living thing is made up of these tiny boxes that we call cells. It turns out that I’m made up of about 100 trillion cells and you’re made up of about 50 trillion microscopic cells because, of course, I’m a little bigger than you.”

Then Roberts asked their teacher, Karen Bucci, “May I borrow a few of the 100 trillion cells inside your mouth?”

Bucci rubbed a toothpick gently inside both sides of her cheeks, a drop of water was placed on a glass slide, the toothpick swirled in the water, a glass cover was placed on top and the slide positioned under a microscope. The children’s eyes widened as they riveted upon the cells projected onto the large overhead screen. 

It “was a highlight of the day,” said Bucci. “My fourth-grade class loved the experience and were very engaged and interested in the information given to them and what they were seeing under the microscopes. The presentation supplemented our classroom instruction well since our class has studied living organisms.”

Bucci added that she has a digital wireless microscope in her classroom, which her students use in their science curriculum to observe living and nonliving elements, “so it was great for students to see the similarity between what is done in the elementary classroom and what is done in a college-level science class, like making drawings of what is observed and labeling the parts,” she said. “Henry Barnard is fortunate to have this resource on campus, and I hope to visit the biology lab again with my classes.”

HBS students also visited RIC’s chemistry lab, where they received demonstrations; the Simulation Center and Nursing Resource Laboratory, where they observed the human patient simulator and used a simulated stethoscope; and the technology lab, where they observed advanced manufacturing equipment in action, including 3-D printing, laser cutting, design software and robotics programming.

The STEAM KIC @ RIC Conference was a collaboration between Magliocco and RIC Professor of Elementary Education MacGregor Kniseley, while nine RIC teacher-education students, who are engaged in practice at HBS, helped HBS learners formulate testable questions for their experiments.