Hanna Taha’s favorite part of the recent Bluff Creek STEM Fest was trying new experiences — which ranged from carving wood to learning about electricity.
The school hosted the STEM (science, technology engineering and math) event Nov. 16-17 for the second year and welcomed the Bakken Museum and several companies and governmental organizations which provided a variety of activities for students.
“I think it’s nice to have them come to our school because we can still do the learning that we do on a daily basis and the other kind of stuff,” said Taha, a fifth-grader.
According to to Anna Edlund, Bluff Creek gifted and talented coordinator, last year’s STEM Fest was only one day, and it was expanded this year by one more day. On the first day, the Bakken Museum gave two presentations — one that involved the whole school. The second presentation kicked off the portion of the STEM Fest that focused on fourth- and fifth-graders on day two.
During the “War of the Currents” presentation, the whole school learned about electrical generation, transmission and conservation through the stories of Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison. The presentation also covered alternating current versus direct current and encouraged students to think about how they can use greener energy sources, Edlund said.
The second presentation “Small Stuff, Big Deal” covered nanoscale particles and how they impact our lives, according to Edlund.
The second day had a format of fourth- and fifth-grade students each attending three sessions in small groups. Each student got to pick one of the sessions to attend based on their interests and the other two sessions were meant to expand their educational experiences.
Nearly 20 companies, organizations and governmental entities were present on the second day, including: MTS Systems Corp. Stratasys, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Chaska High School RoboHawks robotics team, Chanhassen High School’s StormBots robotics team, the University of Minnesota’s chemistry and physics and astronomy departments, Carver County Environmental Services, Boston Scientific, Lakewinds Food Co-op, Edina Pet Hospital and Rapids Lake Education and Visitor Center.
Older students who had also attended Bluff Creek Elementary also came back to volunteer during the festival.
The presenters provided activities, including a wind tunnel where students could test the aerodynamics of a car, where to find invasive species with a full-sized boat that was brought to the school, seeing a robotics demonstration, sampling different foods, or getting to see dry ice up close.
“I think the greatest joy in doing this partnership is the enthusiasm and the willingness of our community partners to come back. It didn’t take much of an invitation. It was just a phone call and a ‘Yes, I’ll be there.’ We had even more businesses that were interested in coming,” Edlund said.
Holly Brown, a Chanhassen parent who helped Edlund plan and coordinate the event, said Bluff Creek’s STEM Fest is modeled after other metro-wide events that bring elementary students in to attend different STEM related sessions in small groups. However it’s cost-prohibitive to bring several students to that type of event, so they got the idea to have community partners come to the school for an event with a similar concept.
“When we talked to the presenters about coming in, we gave them a model of what we wanted it to be,” she said, “and that is we don’t want the kids sitting there. We want them actually engaged in what they’re doing. So hopefully it’s hands on and they’re up and moving around.”
Brown said she also got involved with the STEM Fest because she has a passion for inspiring girls to pursue STEM-related fields. The community partners are being good role models for girls to see how they can succeed in these fields, she added.
Chanhassen High School junior Ben Frey was among the Bluff Creek alumni to help out during the event and learned about the volunteer opportunity through National Honor Society. He believed it was a great way to revisit the school and network with STEM professionals because he’s interested in going into engineering after high school.
Frey said he wishes Bluff Creek had this event when he was at that age, adding that it’s a great way to get students involved with science.
“It’s different than school where you learn a topic and you can’t apply it to anything. But this is ... showing things in the real world,” he said.
Fifth-grader Jameson Boyle enjoyed learning about finding invasive species during the Carver County Environmental Services session. “It’s pretty fun and really interesting for me,” he said.
Brayden Schmitz, a fifth-grader, was interested in attending the Stratasys session about 3D printing because she enjoys art. She got to see a bike helmet and a model of a cat that were made from a 3D printer, she said.
“While they were doing the session, the cat was being made. I thought it would feel waxy,” she said, adding that she was surprised that it was actually hard plastic.
Fifth-grader Jennifer Pierson said she wants to be a veterinarian when she grows up, so she wanted to attend the session with Edina Animal Hospital. She also enjoyed learning about aerodynamics with MTS Systems’ wind tunnel.
“I like them coming to our school because then instead of having one certain group, you can go to different people and different scientists in one day,” she said.