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Valley Journals

Silver Mesa STEAM Night offers students hands-on activities

Mar 07, 2018 05:12PM ● By Julie Slama

Silver Mesa Elementary offers STEAM Night for students to get a chance to experience hands-on activities such as trying 3-D pens. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

It was a chance to try coding, look at virtual reality, try 3-D doodle pens and understand the properties of nitinol memory wire.

Nearly 900 students and families passed through a dozen stations Jan. 23 at Silver Mesa Elementary’s third annual STEAM Night, which invited Nelson Labs scientists, Julie Callahan — University of Utah outreach project coordinator who works with the department of physics and astronomy — and the Utah Museum of Contemporary art truck. About 20 other volunteers as well as Silver Mesa staff and faculty also helped to lead activities and demonstrations.

“We hope that through these activities, the students will understand what science can bring to them day to day,” said Audrey Turley, who co-organized the STEAM Night with volunteer James Barron. “There are so many diverse applications that the students may not think about them. And with art, it adds an important element, which uses a different part of the brain.”

Equipped with a passport to check off visits to various stations such as making art pop-up hats in the library or a visit back to retro technology, students and their parents tried out the various technologies and took in the demonstrations.

Kindergartner Cameron Diehl tried to understand the properties of nitinol memory wire from a Nelson laboratory volunteer, with his mother, Michelle.

“My son loves science and likes to see how things work, so I thought this was a good opportunity for him to see it in action,” she said. 

Cameron said he really likes coding.

“It’s the first time I’ve been able to tell a robot what to do,” he said, adding that he controlled it using an iPad. “The 3-D pens were really fun.”

Nelson Lab volunteers were checking how well people washed their hands. Angelee Gardiner, school speech and language pathologist, took a break from staffing the coding station to wash her hands.

“They gave me a lotion which I rubbed on my hands and it remained where I need to wash my hands better,” she said, adding that she needs to wash the backs of her hands more. “Tonight gives the students an engaging experience with so many aspects of science and technology. Many of them quickly pick up the coding; they learn they’re smarter than the computer.”

In a nearby classroom, students gathered creating objects out of moldable plastic pellets.

Third-grader Ashlin McCoy and her sixth-grade sister, Maelie, had just finished rolling and creating objects. Ashlin made a bouncy ball so “I can roll it and play with it.” Her sister molded hers into a star.

“I liked being able to see how it turned from pellets into something I could shape,” Maelie said.

Ashlin said that she liked the coding games and liked seeing the science fair projects on display in the gym.

“The battery science board was cool. It was on a wire and it spins. They tested if one spins faster than another,” she said, adding that the whole family came – except for her dog, Rusty.

There were stations on digital citizenship, technology and phone safety, Lego robotics, water filtration, Bioburden testing to see how medical devices are sterilized, and samples of rocks and minerals.

The night was created when Barron expanded the school’s existing science fair for upper grades into an opportunity for the entire school. He then met Callahan and saw what other schools’ STEM fairs were like and decided to expand the science fair into a STEAM night, adding the arts component.

“I hope these kids are able to question why and have the tools to research and find the answers,” he said. “They will grow in confidence when they figure it out and it may spark more interest in science and technology.” 

Principal Julie Fielding credits Barron’s foresight.

 “This night grew out of the science fair and we thought if we brought in other interactive ideas, it would be a fun, family event that would appeal to our entire community,” she said, adding that she gladly welcomed the community support for the event.

Fielding said this year’s variety seemed to offer enough that appealed to the families. She said even she couldn’t help but put on a pair of virtual reality goggles to see Chinese New Year festivities.

“We hope that this was a unifying event for families where kids could wander safely through the building and explore what they’re curious about,” she said. “We wanted it to be engaging now and provide them opportunities to explore more on their own.”