New Business Aims to Deliver Science to 8-11 Year-Olds, One Month at a Time

There’s a new Connecticut start-up launching this month, aiming to engage upper elementary school age children with the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) through monthly hands-on activities delivered right to their doors.  What began as a response by two college friends to an entrepreneurial start-up challenge is now a full-fledged business, hoping to grow as it excites children ages 8-11 about the potential of the STEM fields. The business, Genius Box, delivers a “monthly STEM adventure to a subscriber’s mailbox, featuring a topic to explore and the tools to do so."  Each box will contain activities or experiments that further illustrate the topic of the month, providing hands on learning opportunities through a narrative “challenge” posed in each box.genius box  horiz

Kate Pipa and Shivangi Shah received second place at Demo Day at Northeastern University a few years ago, and “with much excitement and encouragement,” decided to launch a company based on their idea.  Next was a successful crowdfunding campaign in fall 2013, which led to initial beta testing and feedback collection, including work with students in Connecticut classrooms to obtain reactions from students and their teachers.  Earlier this year, a prototype Genius Box was provided to middle-school age participants at the Connecticut Technology Council’s annual Girls of Innovation program.

Genius Box aims to connect kids with real life examples of science, technology, engineering, and math to further the understanding of these critical subjects “in a way that resonates with upper elementary school aged children.” The topic to be explored in December’s inaugural Genius Box will be Kaleidoscopes.  The company’s website is now accepting one month, three month or six month subscriptions for the monthly deliveries.

“We are excited to staco foundersrt this new chapter,” said co-founder and CEO Kate Pipa, who lives in Shelton. “And we are excited to bring kids a new box each month of hands-on fun that also doubles as a learning opportunity and is making social impact for the kids and for our partner organizations.”

Co-founder and COO Shivangi Shah adds, “We hope that the next generation of geniuses will embrace STEM and apply it to the world around them. We want them to believe they can change the world.”

Each box includes a narrative story and activity cards to explain topic and activities in a fun, engaging way, and three or more activities and experiments in each box.  Each monthly kit is “designed in a way that puts each genius in the driver's seat to solve the challenge at hand, with minimal help from adults.”

Extending the Benefits

Pipa and Shah have also added a social benefit component to their sales. For each box sold, Genius Box Inc. will donate $1.00 to a partner nonprofit. December’s partner organization is Connecticut-based ManyMentors, which connects middle and high schools students interested in the S.T.E.M. fields with near age peer mentors via interactive, engaging workshops and a highly innovative online platform.

Genius Box is also among the first social benefit corporations in the state of Connecticut, allowing the company to pursue an expanded mission that embraces societal good along with profits.  Legislation creating the new designation was approved by the state legislature earlier this year, and took effect in October.

The company’s website explains “We want to provide an experience that inspires, encourages, and empowers kids to think big. To be curious. To experiment. To make mistakes. To explore new topics. Overall, to be the change makers and problem-solvers of tomorrow, today.”  Aiming directly at its target audience, the site invites, “Adventure on, geniuses. Your monthly mystery awaits.”

The company is currently shipping only within the United States, and offers free shipping.  More information about Genius Box is available at

Photo:  Kate Pipa and Shivangi Shah


World Languages Being Cut by Elementary Schools, Despite Benefits

This month, the Windsor school board voted to eliminate two world language teachers at the elementary school level, which put an end to the district's elementary world language program, in a budget-cutting move.  A month earlier, the school board in Newington decided to delay the introduction of Spanish in lower elementary school grades in order to reduce the budget for the coming year.

Despite studies that have shown that language instruction beginning at the eleworld languagementary school level provides numerous benefits for students, ranging from critical and creative thinking to improved performance on standardized tests and better  job prospects, school districts in Connecticut appear to be cutting back, although the state Department of Education does not have recent data to provide a clear picture of what is occurring.  The most recent data dates back to the 2007-08 school year.

A policy statement by the American Council on The Teaching of Foreign Languages earlier this year stated that “an early start to learning a second language, programs of immersion or dual language immersion, and long learning sequences show strong results in helping all learners” and  outlines how standards-based language learning does the following: develops literacy and numeracy, prepares learners in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) areas, engages learners through practical applications for special purposes and strengthens college and career readiness.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, only 30 percent of American high school students are enrolled in foreign language classes, and only 25 percent of American elementary schools even offer foreign languages. The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages published an alignment of the National Standards for Learning Languages with the Common Core State Standards, adopted in Connecticut and many other states.  The guidelines include standards for reading, listening and viewing as well as writing, speaking and visually representing.

The guidelines also indicate that research demonstrates that “as students come to understand how language works through their learning of a second or third language, their understanding of and attention to language conventions and functions expands and has an impact on applications in their first language.”

Data on the SDE website – now six years old - indicates that the number of Connecticut schools providing world language instruction before grade 4 increased from 14 in 1993 to 85 in 2007.  The number of school districts in the state with world language in the early grades increased from 6 to 40.  Expanding the report to include world language instruction before grade 8, the number of schools grew from 98 in 1993 to 283 in 2007 and the number of school districts increased from 75 to 132.  Data after 2007-08 is not readily available. world lang gr 8

world lang gr 4