McMillan students explore STEM questionsApr 09, 2018 04:29PM ● By Julie Slama
McMillan STEM fair winners were announced before the students had a chance to explore STEM activities. (Julie Slama/City Journals)
Which flower absorbs the most amount of water? Do kids or adults have a quicker reaction time? How tall do I sound?
These and other questions, McMillan Elementary student-scientists explored as part of their STEM fair, which was on display during the interactive STEM night activities.
“We invited all the students from kindergarten to sixth-grade to participate,” said McMillan STEM coordinator Kristen McRae, who said that 130 students took the opportunity to display 118 projects. “Quite a few of our younger students want to do it because it’s fun and presented their projects to judges.”
Those students, she said, received feedback from area judges so when they reach the upper grades, they can compete for spots to advance to the University of Utah Science and Engineering Regional Fair.
Third-grader Lily Matsumori was one of those students. She questioned what the effect of color had on the taste of food and drinks.
“I wanted to know if when our eyes see the color of the food, if it effects what we think and sends signals to the brain how the food will taste,” she said. “I thought it would.”
To test her hypothesis, Lily used red and green food coloring to change the color of apple juice. Twenty people tasted both colored drinks and while all agreed the drink was a juice, the majority of testers thought the two drinks were different, with the red-colored apple juice more sweet and the green-colored, more tart.
“I proved my hypothesis that the color does affect the taste of food and the testers were tricked into thinking the juices were different. I know some companies that make and sell food add coloring to their products to make them more appealing, but I’d like to further my experiment with other colors like purple and black to see what kinds of messages our eyes will send to our brains about those,” she said.
Through the experiment, Lily said she prepared talking points and learned how to speak to judges to convey her message. After showing her dad, Dustin, her STEM board, she wanted to check out the activities, including an opportunity to learn how to estimate the number of jellybeans in a jar.
Lily and other STEM night participants could rotate through 14 stations from learning about the Dromida desert truck and how motion-capture technology is used to make video games to blasting off a paper rocket they designed or creating fog with simple household products.
STEM night started at McMillan after sixth-grade teacher Rebecca Elder won the 2013 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching and formed the idea of an interactive night after getting ideas from meeting others across the country as well as at the National Science Foundation.
“The idea is to have fun, hands-on activities that engage students and get them excited and wanting to learn more,” she said. “We want them to gain an appreciation for STEM, especially girls, so they learn that science is attainable and see that they have a love for it.”
As a side bonus, fourth-grade teacher Jessica DeMann said that many families offer demonstrations that tie into their careers.
“It’s fun to get parents involved in the activities as well as have families come try them out. We hope that they will carry over into their homes and they’ll try more there,” she said.
Along with parents who work in the community, several teachers researched projects online or got ideas from the STEM Action Center that students could try at the STEM night.
Fourth-grader McKenna Heath, who was with her dad, Bryan, said she was excited to see all the STEM boards, awards and the presentations in the rooms.
“I like science,” she said. “I like to see different things and figure out how they work.”
Fifteen fourth- through sixth-grade students were honored with STEM awards, with the fifth- and sixth-grade award of excellence students advancing to the regional elementary fair slated for March 21.
The winners include fourth-graders award of excellence recipients Baron Collette, Molly Bytheway and Asher Godfrey and award of merit winners Erika Berge and Gavin Wignall. The fifth-grade award of excellence winners are Grace McRae, Reba Sutherland and Ava Hansen and the award of merit recipients are Trinity Christensen and Porter Liebert. The sixth-grade award of excellence winners are Maxwell Staley, Auriah Evans and Alex Huggard and the award of merit recipients are Micah McBride and Alyssa Harlin.
“The students get so excited when this comes around each year. It has a positive feel when they realize, ‘Oh, I can do this,’” McRae said. “Some students excel at athletics, others at academics, Reflections, spelling and writing; this gives others a chance to shine in STEM. And for all of the students, they realize it’s fun to explore, question and learn the answers to ‘why?’ and ‘how?’”