Boulevard students demonstrate mastery of science curriculum

Second-graders build dams.

Photo by Krissy Dietrich Gallagher.

When children are able to explain to others what they have learned, they are demonstrating their mastery of the material. This is what happened at Boulevard Elementary School last December, when students presented their Capstone STEM projects for the first trimester.

Students had spent the fall months responding to an essential question as part of their science curriculum. Fourth-graders studied how native Ohio plants and animals survive. Second-graders investigated how animals and the environment interact with one another.

Teams of teachers met to determine how their students might demonstrate content mastery. Students worked alone or in small groups to create their Capstone projects, which they presented to family members on Dec. 6. 

Fifth-graders were able to choose between creating a video on invasive species or designing and building a trap for catching an invader before it enters local waterways.

In Kristy Minnillo’s fifth-grade classroom, the video option was popular. Several girls rewrote the lyrics to a Queen classic song that became “He Will Scare You,” about the invasive white perch that is currently disrupting Lake Erie’s fragile ecosystem.

Three boys created a newscast that introduced “breaking news” before shifting to an image of an “environmental specialist” superimposed in front of a bucolic lake scene.

Other students opted to go on an “engineering adventure,” as they designed, created, tested and revised traps to stop the influx of invasive fish.

Down the hall in Julie Walker’s fourth-grade class, students selected an endangered species, built a mini-diorama of its biome, and created a slide show, with informational text and images, describing its appearance, behavior, habitat and current threats to its survival.

Raushauntae Moyer’s presentation on the black-tailed cuckoo ended with her survival plan, including three action steps to save the bird.

Stacey Cohen’s second-graders created a museum walk consisting of the science projects they had completed during the previous months, including worms moving through soil in water bottles and plaster fossils of animal prints and teeth. Groups of three or four students worked together to build dams in aluminum pans, then tested whether their dams could withstand an influx of water.

After each unit, the students wrote descriptions of what they had done and what they had learned. Students recorded these on Chromebooks so that parents touring the “museum” could scan RSS codes to hear the recorded descriptions on their smartphones.

A favorite project for Kristen Infield’s second-graders involved constructing paper airplanes of different shapes to determine whether birds with longer, thinner wingspans could fly farther than those with shorter, wider wingspans. When the thinner version won seven of eight trials, students had their answer. They also learned that research does not always result in uniform outcomes and that experiments must be repeated for results to be confirmed.

Infield believes that her students gained much from their hands-on experiences and from “discovering things for themselves instead of just being told.”

Jackie Taylor, STEM coordinator, was pleased with the results of Boulevard’s first Capstone event, which she had considered a trial run. She is already setting her sights on next trimester’s Capstone STEM event, which will focus on physical sciences, such as force and motion, and simple machines. Tentatively scheduled for early March, this will be an interactive event where guests will have the opportunity to interact with student creations.

Krissy Dietrich Gallagher

Krissy Dietrich Gallagher, a longtime resident of Cleveland Heights, is a former district teacher and a freelance journalist under contract with the CH-UH City School District. A longer version of this story appeared at

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Volume 10, Issue 2, Posted 1:01 PM, 01.31.2017