Making Science Fun

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

STEM initiative funds afterschool tech programs

Rob Daniel
Iowa City Press-Citizen

Hills Elementary fifth-grader Brianna Wilmoth thought making bridges was easy until she actually had to build one.

"Making them was complicated, but it was fun," said Brianna of the model bridges made of marshmallows and toothpicks. "(The difficult part was) figuring out to make them and how to begin."

Brianna was among about a dozen Hills Elementary students to display their projects Tuesday afternoon at the University of Iowa's Seamans Center for Engineering Arts and Sciences. The display was part of an event by the Corridor STEM Initiative, or Science, Technology, Engineering and Math learning programs. Six schools, including Hills Elementary, English Valleys Elementary in North English and Cedar Rapids Prairie Middle School, received $13,000 mini-grants from a $200,000 Iowa Department of Education grant to the Grant Wood Area Education Agency to provide after-school science and technology education.

"The kids were able to take what they learned in science class and apply it to a problem," said Lori Kriz, a teacher at Hoover Elementary in Iowa City who served as the STEM initiative's teacher-in-residence this year.

At Hills Elementary, the STEM program was part of the Hills Learning Center where students come for help in reading and math and learn about science as well. At Tuesday's event, students from three of the participating schools, including Hills, got to show off their projects. Some explained things such as how honey is made, while others demonstrated how to make a hand pollinator.

Fifth-graders Ellen Simmons, Alex Alva and Brandon Needs built walls of rock, soil, sand and clay to show how to make a strong enough mortar to withstand the contact from a demolishing rock.

Hills sixth-grader Michael Mendoza, 12, made alarm circuits with third-grader Jorge Contreas, 9. The circuit worked off of a catapult that, when it touched the wire with a brass connection, sent an electrical current to a light bulb and a buzzer. Michael said the project and other things he learned in the program, including learning how electric current feels when touched, might encourage him to become an electrical engineer.

"(Teacher Tom Gingerich) made us hold the wires, and we got shocked," he said. "That's when I got inspired by electricity."