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Frank Gehry, Frank Lloyd Wright, FMA 4th grade: A Club Spotlight on the next generation of Architects April 15, 2010

Posted by jburnstein in Clubs, Mentor volunteers, Volunteering.

Ask anyone. Spring in the Metro Boston area means one thing: construction season. This is no less true in Laura Blecha, Frances Hill and Rachelle Blinoff-Mudd’s 4th grade ‘Rescue by Design’ club at the Fletcher Maynard Academy. These mentors and their girls have been prolific in their creation: bridges, towers, platforms, pyramids, arches, domes, cars, and more. They’ve used just as many different kinds of materials: gum drops, cups, toothpicks, straws, rubber bands, CDs, rolled up newspaper, sugar cubes, modeling clay, balloons… just about everything you can find in the FMA supply closets.

These mentors are special. Every Wednesday they bring with them an arsenal of tools that help them build a successful club. Beyond the materials (which they’ve mostly handled themselves since going off curriculum a few weeks ago), these mentors bring energy, patience, innovation, enthusiasm and ingenuity. They are flexible when things don’t work out as planned (apparently it takes a long time to roll up sixty-five sheets of newspaper) and amendable to using the unexpected to their advantage (“Scientifically speaking, why does dried out clay make for a bad building material?”). In this club spotlight, I am going to feature two of their most innovative and inspired sessions. It was tough, because there have been many, but the geodesic dome and sugar-cube arches won out.

Finished geodesic dome!
The architects and their finished geodesic dome

A few weeks ago, Frances was distraught during the set up time shortly before clubs were supposed to begin. This was a surprise to me, because normally she is so peppy and put-together. She had found her own experiment to do that week with the girls – building a geodesic dome out of rolled up newspapers – but hadn’t anticipated how long it would take to prepare the materials. Without enough time to completely finish, she and the other mentors were able to improvise another activity for that week. The following week, though, she was ready. Newspapers in hand, the mentors and girls went to work on the dome. Piece by piece, they developed a system with some people as holders and other people helping out with the taping.

In the final minutes of club, the dome finally came together and stood on its own. Teamwork at its best. We invited all the other clubs to come check it out, and it was clear how proud the fourth graders were as the younger girls oooh’d and ahhh’d. After taking a few pictures, we let the girls enter the structure and camp out for a bit like Eskimos in an igloo. Finally, we cleared the little ones out and had an exhilarating final few seconds as the fourth graders teared apart the thing they had worked so hard on for the last eighty minutes. A quick, fun reward for their efforts.

A glimpse of FMA clubbers in their natural habitat

A glimpse of FMA clubbers in their natural habitat

The following week, I watched Laura frantically filing away at sugar cubes in the corner of the classroom for a few minutes, like an elf in Santa’s factory on Christmas Eve. Wondering what was going on, Iasked if I could help. Eventually, I found her a knife to cut the cubes a little more efficiently. The result? Le Arc de Triomphe. Every girl made her own arch using sugar cubes filed down to different degrees. The mentors then took photos with all the girls and their finished product.

Other club highlights that didn’t make the cut (mostly due to lack of photographic evidence): Rubber band-powered cars with CDs as wheels, Platforms made from sheets of cardboard and balloons, that supported the girls’ weight, and the cup-tower challenge. The last one, especially, was a blast to watch. The girls competed to see who could build the highest tower with 70 cups in five minutes, and then the mentors and their junior mentor, Sarah Eustache, competed against each other. Frances won, proving that her half-dozen years of training as an engineer have been put to good use. Hopefully that will land on her resume some day.

This is Rachelle’s first semester with us, Frances’ second, and Laura’s FOURTH. Frances has been with the same girls all year, and Laura has been with them since Fall ’08, when they were just barely out of second grade! That kind of mentor dedication is what makes Science Club the community it is, and we are so so so grateful to the mentors who make us a priority, even with all the craziness of living the life of a scientist. I love visiting this club at FMA, because it is guaranteed that the girls will be to be active, engaged, and energized in whatever the lesson is for the day. Thanks to these mentors for inspiring me, as a staff member of SCFG.


If you’re a mentor and doing something cool in clubs, send me pictures!! I might feature you in a club spotlight blog post. jburnstein@scienceclubforgirls.org



1. Alice Blecha - April 17, 2012

Nice to know people are willing to be mentors to youth!

Connie Chow - April 28, 2012

So many wonderful and generous folks out there.

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