February Print STEM day preparation

STEM day is a fun event we get to have here in Harrisonburg, and being apart of the STEM program as well as participating in the event in the past and this year aided the writing process greatly.

   Head to the mall on Feb. 18th and it might look a little different from the norm. HCPS STEM will be holding its biannual STEM day, an event where members of the community can come to experience the science and tinker with the engineering projects that the STEM middle and high school students are involved in. From the high school, projects will include booths displaying sphero robots, rockets, mock stratostar balloons, looking at cheek cells and more. All STEM classes at the high school will be participating. Overall, there will be about 50 different booths from HCPS taking up spaces not used by merchants and occupying three-quarters of the mall’s corridors and public space.

   The day is geared toward elementary schoolers in specific, the STEM program hoping to interest young minds in their fields. This presents some difficulties though, according to STEM director and teacher Myron Blosser.

   “We need to appeal to little kids. STEM day really has a focus to excite little kids for STEM, and in STEM biology the work we do is so molecular that [you have to think] ‘How do you turn what we’re doing into things that six year olds will have fun with?’” Blosser said. “So at the high school level, often times in the academic environment, it’s hard to translate that into fun for little kids. Now it could be that other 16 year olds will come up and be like ‘Holy cow, you’re doing what?’, but for little six year olds, they’ll come up and look at an engineered gel box and not know what it is and not appreciate it.”

   Despite the challenge, the Governor’s STEM Academy has found ways to overcome it.

“For example, the eleventh graders that are going to be doing a displaying on the stratostar, which is the big balloon they’re going to send up, they’re doing a mock down where they have little balloons filling with helium, and allow little kids to play with that,” Blosser said. “So in biology… we came up with the idea of setting up microscopes and having kids do a variety of cell work where they can look at their own cells under a microscope, things that my students can do easily, so they’ll be running that. So that’s what we’re doing, is [thinking] what is something we’re doing and how can we mock it down so that little kids will experience it.”

   A few of Geoffray Estes’ Pre Calc and AP Calculus students, along with members of Math Honors Society Mu Alpha Theta, will be displaying projects as well. The Pre Calc students will be presenting “Wobbly Circles” and the Calculus students, the properties of a cycloid, a curve traced by a point on a circle being rolled in a straight line. The projects were chosen due to the complexity of the calculations they involve.

   “The Wobbly Circles project deals with calculating the center of mass of a system of two interlocking circles,” Estes said. “The Cycloid Project requires calculus of parametric equations, specifically, finding arc length of a cycloid.  We then use our calculations to construct a cycloid of the desired length and use that construction to develop our final product.”

Besides their displays, the rest of their booths were a surprise.

   There is much work involved in STEM Day, including that of the students to prepare for their projects as well as present the day of. Students had get their equipment ready, create slideshow presentations and rehearse what they were going to do beforehand in order to know how to act and what to say at their booths. The day went from 10 a.m. to three p.m. in the afternoon, some students showing up even the night before to set up and others at eight a.m. Most sign up to work for a three hour shift, but some stay for the entire day. Students that work three hours or more were fed lunch and given a STEM Day t-shirt as an incentive to volunteer. Those who arrive in the morning are provided breakfast as well. Volunteering occurred in many different ways, whether working with a science class, an engineering class, or doing many different, general tasks like greeting or working multiple booths wherever there was a need.

There were about 120 volunteers working during the day, some being parents and teachers, not including the estimated 300 STEM students who worked the exhibits.

The day also requires much work and time invested in its organization. Amy Sabarre, K-12 STEM Coordinator and inventor and director of STEM Day, estimates around 300 or more hours have gone into planning the event. Sabarre shoulders mostly all of the planning.

“I must coordinate with all of the schools to make sure they are working on the student exhibits… I meet with various community organizations about support and volunteers. I meet with the mall and walk the mall multiple times to plan the map. I must organize the needs of each exhibit and make sure they have the requirements they requested for their exhibit,” Sabarre said. “I continually communicate by email with everyone involved. I meet in person with the volunteer coordinator to ensure our recruitment efforts are underway and then again to place volunteers at key places throughout the day. I order all of the supplies, work with maintenance to get tables and chairs over to the mall. [I] order the food, make the [flyers], student passports, signage, movie, et cetera. I look for exciting new things like the Kid Made Arcade and STEM Putt Putt that will be new and different. I could go on and on. Although most of the work falls on me, I could not do it without Lisa Siever who works at Central office. I call her the co-director of STEM day.”

   Despite all of the preparation involved, it all comes out to be worth it in the end.

“[The most rewarding parts of the planning are] seeing our community come together on this grand of a scale, seeing the kids shine as they present their projects [and] seeing the happiness in the kids who attend as they participate in things for the first time,” Sabarre said.

Blosser appreciates the interactions that go on between the kids as well.

“It’s a phenomenal day. It’s a really cool day because you see just hundreds and hundreds of people out looking at not only STEM, but also looking at Harrisonburg City Schools, so it’s really rewarding to see all of our students out, all grade levels, interacting with adults and families and little kids,” Blosser said.

Sophomore Blane Murphy, one of the engineering students involved in rocketry, is also excited for the learning and fascination he hopes will take place.

   “I had a really great time doing STEM Day [two years ago], and the job of teaching and getting kids interested in those subjects really felt good to me, knowing that we have the potential to bring out the next engineer to do great things for the world,” Murphy said. “We just need to give them exposure and spark interest.”

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