It’s 2 p.m. on Thursday in Troy, New York. A group of Harlem Academy fifth and sixth graders are coding a robotic car to navigate the angles, turns, and distances needed to exit a maze. A group of seventh and eighth graders are using laser thermometers to measure the effect of different insulation methods in models they built. Another group is aboard a boat on Lake George testing water samples for zooplankton and sodium under the supervision of leading freshwater scientists.
These are just a few snapshots from the middle school annual trip to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the nation’s oldest technological research university. Rensselaer professors work closely with Harlem Academy to plan specialized programming, introducing students to the various applications of science.
During the three-day trip, the fifth and sixth graders take a survey approach, spending 2.5 hours at 5 different labs, exploring the equipment, and learning about each professor’s work. Meanwhile, the seventh and eighth graders divide into three groups, each focused on testing hypotheses to solve a real-world scientific problem.
On the last day – after two days of seeing professors sharing their research – seventh and eighth graders present their own findings from their investigations to the fifth and sixth graders.
“Students see and experience firsthand how the scientific method is put into play in labs on a daily basis, and then have the opportunity to complete hands-on experiments,” notes middle school director Leah Weintraub.
As a central component of Harlem Academy’s program, we expose students to a variety of career opportunities and mentors, particularly in science and math. Head of school Vinny Dotoli recounts how eighth grade student, Taneyah developed her interest in biomedical engineering during last year’s trip to RPI. This year, Taneyah and three of her classmates who are also interested in science were able to sit down with Dr. Morris Washington. Vinny adds, “It was fantastic to hear Dr. Washington and the students share their respective research interests, and discuss pathways into science.”
Equally important to the deep exposure to science and its applications is the opportunity for middle schoolers to dive into college life. Leah reflects, “Part of what makes this such a rich opportunity is the chance for students to return year after year. Our students develop a strong sense of belonging on campus, and that is invaluable.”