STEM Workshops Aim to Inspire During Fall Break
Students from three elementary schools in District 49 gathered Oct. 18 to learn about their planet’s core, states of matter and the tools of science. Over a three-hour workshop, they used their hands and various lines of inquiry, while connecting lessons to their world.
The POWER Zone workshop was designed to support budding science, technology, engineering and math skills, according to Bobby Gagnon, STEM consultant. It was offered during a two-week fall break to inspire pursuits of scientific knowledge and processes.
In the library at Odyssey Elementary School, where school year lessons benefit from a STEM laboratory, volcanic eruptions of vinegar and baking soda covered Play-Doh landscapes.
After making ice cream to model solids, liquids and gases, Gagnon suggested the workshop might slightly exceed its original three-hour timeframe. Third-grader Sydney Poore, 8, said, “Let’s keep going — let’s stay here another two hours.”
“Science is about curiosity,” says Gagnon, who coordinated two workshops: one for elementary school students in third through fifth grades, the other for sixth- through eighth-graders at Skyview Middle School. He hopes to offer the workshops again during spring break.
Gagnon is a senior instructor at University of Colorado Colorado Springs. He’s part of UCCS Teach, a collaborative program for earning a bachelor's degree in mathematics or science, along with a secondary school teaching license, under the guidance of master teachers.
“Students need to see that science isn’t about memorization; it’s about creativity and problem solving,” says Gagnon. “There are so many standards to meet today, there are so many things to do, that sometimes inspiration gets lost, or a focus on curiosity isn’t there.”
Gagnon met with teachers to determine the STEM topics needing support, those with limited time for inquiry-focused activities. He created lessons with third grade teacher Amanda Bower, who earned a bachelor’s in biology and elementary school education from UCCS.
Fifth-grader Ha’ani Castro was listening over a poster board covered in white, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple pompoms, ranging from dime- to silver dollar-sized diameters. The board was divided into quarters, where she modeled a solid, liquid, gas and plasma.
“With plasma, they’re all far apart,” said Ha’ani, 10, holding a bottle of glue. “With solids, they’re always clumped together, and they never change unless they get broken.”
“We use things like volume and mass in pastry cooking, so this lets me know what that is,” said Ha’ani, who wants to become a pastry chef. “If I need to do a presentation on pastries, this helps me understand the ingredients better.”
“With medicines, some are solids, some are liquids,” and it’s important to know why, said Sydney, who’s interested in becoming a nurse or a doctor.
“Next, we’re going to talk about the tools you’d use as scientists,” said Gagnon, displaying various cylinders, stands, clamps, scales and microscopes. “When we’re doing science, we have to be precise — we have to know exactly what we’re doing.”
With an atomic and molecular acceleration lab displayed during a slideshow of laboratories on an overhead television, Gagnon explained how scientists propel molecules against metal plates, and then measure their speed by analyzing the resulting sound.
“Oh, wow,” said Ha’ani.
While studying rock cycles, the students discussed the ways rocks form, breakdown and reform. They explored the differences between igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic formations.
“We’ll pretend this is our igneous rock,” said Gagnon, holding up a blue crayon. He asked about ways that it’d be weathered or eroded down. With hands in the air, stories of water and wind unfolded. Ha’ani directed attention to how contact with other rocks causes erosion.
Each student was instructed to peel the wrapper off his or her crayon, and then shave off layers of wax using scissors. After the students mixed a pinch of their colored shavings with others, they put pressure on it. Next, they melted the piles using cupcake wrappers and hot water.
“Are these the same crayons?” said Gagnon.
“No, because we changed them with heat,” said Sydney.
“With this workshop, students can go to Garden of the Gods and appreciate what really happened there,” said Gagnon. He says the public park provides a space to see how millions of years of geologic processes led to colorful, sculpted layers of sedimentary rock.
“Science is everywhere.”