Grade 1

…preparing young students for careers that don’t even exist yet!

Science – Technology – Engineering – Mathematics

stem graphpaper

S.T.E.M. Education is a federal initiative:

(1) to secure America’s leadership in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics; and, (2) to identify promising strategies for strengthening the education that leads to S.T.E.M. careers.


Allendale Columbia Lower School S.T.E.M. Teachers:  


Donna Chaback


Sue Sorrentino






CURRENT S.T.E.M. Units of Study 2018-19:               *Unit Highlights & Photos BELOW

  1. Programming Robot Navigation – completed
    • Review concepts for programming floor robots to navigate on a variety of new and more complex mission mats along with,
      • strategizing, testing/re-testing, and documenting all programming
    • Complete final programming missions on an actual robot tournament field adapted specifically for the floor robots
    • Program navigation using a simulation software program (for the floor robot)
  2. Comprehensive Scientific Study: Natural World of Worms – completed
    • The Scientific Method
    • Worm Studies/Research – parts of a worm, how they move, how and what they eat, why they are important, and so on
    • Scientific Labs and Documentation:  formulating hypotheses, making predictions, observing, collecting data, reporting out lab results, and drawing conclusions
  3. Optics – completed
    • Properties of light and the parts of a light wave
    • How color as well as, light energy levels, are determined by specific wavelengths
    • Optical properties of different media
  4. Magnetism – completed
    • Ferromagnetic materials, lodestone, and the scientific history of magnets
  5. Physical Mechanisms Unit: Design Thinking and Innovating Solutions – current unit of study
    • Students investigate the effects of friction, energy, force, and speed along with developing design-thinking skills including working with constraints and real world, “unexpected function change requests” for innovating solutions (viable prototypes) to the problems they are posed.
    • Project management, design documentation, data collection, and reporting out results


Below are highlights of some of our First Grade, S.T.E.M. learning experiences throughout the years:

This webpage highlights some of our exciting Lower School S.T.E.M. learning experiences – including our current year programs, new programs in development and testing, as well as the units of study we typically provide our students. Collaborating with our numerous and global, collegiate and corporate partners, our S.T.E.M. programs continue to dynamically evolve each year with providing innovative and authentic learning experiences for our young students.

Optics / Photonics

With our years of experience in S.T.E.M. curriculum development and with Rochester, NY now designated the Photonics Hub of America, the Lower School S.T.E.M. Team has been requested to develop a comprehensive, grade-by-grade, Elementary Program in Optics. Working in collaboration with several university and corporate partners, we are excited to be engaging our Lower School S.T.E.M. students with actively field-testing our new Optics Programs, participating in our hands-on labs, and with also reporting out results and recommendations to corporate product development teams as well as, university level, Optics Departments – providing our students with authentic and relevant learning experiences!



Life Science Studies

…Unit of Study – Natural World of Worms:  Are worms social?

This is a question (among others), that our first grade S.T.E.M. students investigate when learning about the Scientific Method. Life scientists inquire about things by asking questions with a common beginning:  “I wonder how… I wonder why… I wonder if…”

And, what first grader isn’t full of questions, right?

The scientific method involves formulating a hypothesis: an explanation for what is observed by testing a prediction determined to be true or false (I think worms are social). Now, I admit, this isn’t something I’ve ever really wondered about, but it does provide for some very interesting scientific investigation and our first graders have consistently been highly engaged in this particular scientific study. Throughout this unit, students continue to observe, gather, and interpret data supporting or negating their hypotheses; formulate new hypotheses or revise old ones as needed; and continued accumulating knowledge of the natural world of worms. Our students also study other behaviors of worms including their reactions to light and water, their environmental preferences, and so on.

Our young scientists also study vermicomposting: the use of earthworms to convert organic waste into fertilizer. Did you know…Environmentalists recommend two ponds of worms per one pound of food waste? By the way, two pounds of worms is equal to approximately 2,000 worms! In order to find out how many worms we need for vermicomposting, students weigh the AC compost bucket for several days – be sure to ask your child about this fascinating unit of study!



…Unit of Study – Natural World of Turtles:

Students learn that turtles are reptiles, cold-blooded, and like to lay their eggs in sand, grass, or dirt. Diagramming the parts of a turtle, students learned that the upper part of the shell is the carapace, the bottom part is the plastron, and the triangular pieces on the shell are called scutes. A group of turtles is called a bale.

Comparing and contrasting sea turtles and land turtles, students form inferences based on detailed images and with also referencing Sea World Videos. Upon learning the differences between a turtle, a tortoise, and a terrapin, students document the specific details of each with constructing informational (3-circle) Venn diagrams.


Applied Sciences / Engineering / Programming

…Unit of Study – Computer Animation Programming in SCRATCH Jr.

Our young STEM students continue to develop their critical thinking and problem-solving skills with learning game animation programming using the Ipad app, ScratchJr.

This app encourages very young children to program their own interactive games and stories using graphical programming blocks. It is a collaborative effort between theMassachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Lifelong Kindergarten Research Group, the Tufts University’s Developmental Technologies Team, and the technology startup,Playful Invention Company. ScratchJr was inspired by the popular Scratch programming language our 4th grade STEM students become quite proficient in.

Tufts University professor, Marina Umaschi Bers, has stated that, “As young children code with ScratchJr, they develop design and problem-solving skills that are foundational for later academic success, and by using math and language in a meaningful context, they develop early-childhood numeracy and literacy.”

Our first graders learn programming concepts for adding and changing backgrounds and characters, transmitting and receiving information from one character to another for triggering actions, creating and modifying characters in the paint editor with making their characters come to life, along with learning the differences between programming repeat and forever loops, and so on…

Equally exciting, our 4th grade STEM students, experienced in Scratch programming (for older children), often act as our “Visiting Guest Experts” for field-testing the 1st grade final programming projects!

As the program developers at MIT like to say, “Children don’t just learn to code, they code to learn!”


…Unit of Study – Programming Navigation Engineering

  • Virtual/Simulation Programming
  • Programming Robot Navigation on a Field Mat
    • Solving for specific mission challenges

In this unit of study, our 1st grade S.T.E.M. students were asked to solve a variety of mission challenges. As part of this task, students needed to program their Bee-Bot Robots to successfully, and autonomously, navigate a tournament field mat, complete with numerous obstacles and constraints.

With first learning to program floor robots in Kindergarten, the students’ S.T.E.M. teachers decided their first graders were up for the challenge of using an actual robotics tournament field mat with collaboratively choosing specific missions to complete in their teams of two. For instance, some students chose to program their robot to autonomously navigate from the retail store (Wegman’s) to the warehouse, while others chose to program their robots to autonomously navigate from the Post Office to a mailbox, and back to the Post Office again. Specific mission tasks included strategizing, testing, re-testing, and documenting their programming. This unit is a great way for our young students to further enhance their critical thinking and problem-solving skills.


Students review programming robot navigation with first using simulation software



…Unit of Study – Magnetism

  • Unit Vocabulary, Scientific Terms, and Concepts (poles, attract, repel, magnetic field)
  • Importance of compass use in Cartography
  • Magnetic Game Design
  • Magnetic Game Creation
  • Magnetic Game Field Testing


… Unit of Study – Design Thinking and Innovating Solutions in 1st Grade S.T.E.M. Class

Our 1st Grade S.T.E.M. students learn about design thinking and innovation engineering throughout their unit on Physical Mechanisms. In this real world context, our young students build structures incorporating gears and pulley systems, learn how to solve for mechanical challenges, identify driver and follower gears, and also develop their teamwork and critical thinking skills. Students first learn the correct terminology of all the mechanical parts as well as how each part functions.

Throughout this hands-on unit of study, students investigate the effects of friction, energy, force, and speed along with developing design thinking skills including working with constraints and real world, “unexpected function change requests” for innovating solutions (viable prototypes) to the problems they are posed.

In addition to developing skills in collaboration and problem-solving, our students also experience project management, design documentation, data collection, and reporting out results – just like real engineers.  More than learning ABOUT engineering, our young students are learning to DO engineering!

LEGO Early Simple Machines

Gr1_Spinning Top




In partnership with Alfred State College, REVTOS (a renewable energy training system) was placed on the Allendale Columbia campus for a period of three months. The REVTOS System is comprised of a 30′ x 5′ solar panel and a 30′ high wind turbine with a remote monitoring and data logging box located in the Lower School S.T.E.M. Lab. Students in grades K through 5 took full advantage of this system being on our campus with completing a variety of solar and wind power experiments and data collection.

First graders learned about solar energy with participating in labs to help them understand the difference between the heat from the sun and harnessing energy from the sun.





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