Berkshire Museum leads MIT invention education partnerships in local schools


GREAT BARRINGTON >> The approximately 125-mile gap between Berkshire County and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology now feels a little less distant for local students.

In the past year, dozens of Berkshire students have been able to participate in activities organized by the Lemelson-MIT Program through its partnership with the Berkshire Museum. The Lemelson-MIT Program is a Boston-based nonprofit housed at MIT's School of Engineering. The Lemelson-MIT and Berkshire Museum program specifically collaborate through the program's Junior Varsity InvenTeam initiative, which aims to equip educators with invention-based activity guides and the materials and tools necessary to enhance hands-on STEM education in their classrooms.

Leigh Estabrooks, Lemelson-MIT Program invention education officer, said the JV InvenTeam approach reinforces how science, technology, engineering and mathematics can be learned and applied in various situations where a problem, like a design or repair issue, needs to be solved. Through working with a team, said Estabrooks, "These enrichment experiences engage youth by making science relevant to the real-world. Students can begin to envision a future in the STEM workforce."

Back in February, Pittsfield High School and Monument Valley Regional Middle School in Great Barrington were named among nine schools in the state and 35 in the nation to convene a JV InvenTeam. PHS students got to visit the MIT campus in Cambridge earlier this year, and throughout the summer, Berkshire Museum educators have led a Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam program for rising Monument Valley fifth- and sixth-graders.

"They get to come here and try things they wouldn't in the regular classroom, because they have the time to go more in-depth," said Tom Kelly, program director for Project Connection, which helped coordinate the integration of the Lemelson-MIT program into the regular summer program of the Berkshire Hills Regional School District.

"We hope that if we expose them to different things, they can explore things to find a passion," Kelly said.

"We aim to give them the opportunity to experiment and solve challenges in their own ways," said Berkshire Museum public program specialist and InvenTeam-trained educator, Johanna Batman.

The Monument Valley kids dissected earbud headphones to figure out and discuss how they work. They created simple speakers with paper plates and musical instruments by experimenting with shape, structure, materials and cuts to vary vibration. They also engineered and tested out their own Urethane-cast shoe sole designs, and built and tested homemade amplifiers.

"I actually learned a lot," said Sophia Tournas-Hardt, a rising sixth-grader.

The opportunity to build a simple guitar with wood and wire thrilled Liam Kusmin, a rising sixth-grader. "It's awesome," said the boy, who had a summer goal based on the school's "Word of the Day" program. "Mine was 'concentrate,' " he said, "It helps me focus on what I'm doing, which in this case, is my project."


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