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Brooklyn middle schoolers display STEM projects, model futuristic cities

Are you smarter than a middle schooler? Compared to these kids, probably not.

Dozens of middle school students flexed their minds Friday, July 31 at the New York University (NYU) Polytechnic School of Engineering, and showcased technological and scientific projects that they created.

The 48 students were part of the free Science of Smart Cities summer program that the university hosts for students.

Towards the program’s end, the kids built an array of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) projects and displayed them to their parents and members of the media.

“Their artifacts are first-rate,” said Ben Esner, the director for the Center for K12 STEM Education, the parent STEM program for Science of Smart Cities. “They’ve taken all the concepts…put them to work and it’s really inspiring.”

Starting in the afternoon Friday, the students welcomed people to examine their work that split into four themes: energy, urban infrastructure, wireless communications and transportation.
Some of the projects students created included a coded website, a robot that moved based on what colors it saw, and electrical circuits that ran off of pennies and potatoes.

“The sensor sends out a signal that we can’t hear…that tells it when to stop,” said Makkedah Murray, 10, the robot’s creator. “Most of the things I learned here I never learned before.”

“I learned a lot about solar power, which is pretty cool,” said Zainab Yaqub, 12, who goes to I.S. 187 in Dyker Heights, and helped create a motor that attached to a fish model so it could simulate its movements in water.

“I think it’s really awesome kids this age can understand how this technology works,” parent Dorcas Cooper said.

The presentations culminated in the smart cities, large models of futuristic municipalities with energy-efficient features, such as wind turbines, that students created out of cardboard, Legos and wood.

The three cities combined the four themes into one assignment and were meant to challenge the students to consider how to balance technology with social considerations.
“There’s a component that’s urban and kids look at the social context,” Esner said. “They really get to think about what kinds of cities they want to live in.”

Students attended Science of Smart Cities at NYU Poly for four weeks before the expo, which concluded their summer learning. The program was similar to a regular school day, Esner said, but its lectures only lasted about five to 10 minutes to lead into STEM activities.

Students worked on a project every day, except when they went to one of the program’s five off-campus sites, a new feature of the four-year-old Science of Smart Cities.
A total of 180 students applied for the slots, which were designated for students from central Brooklyn middle schools with fewer resources.

“I also come from a lower economic background, so I know how important this is,” instructor Jessica Zhang said. “If this program didn’t exist, they might never know STEM.”

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