Bringing science to life, Houston students take part in STEM family night

jmink@macon.comApril 26, 2013 

stem_night

Dressed as Sherlock Holmes, Joshua Smith solved but one mystery during STEM Family Night at Houston County High School: how to win the costume contest. Smith said afterward it was elementary because his mother made his 19th century outfit herself.

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WARNER ROBINS -- For a few hours on Friday, 10-year-old Jillian Birdsong was scientist Marie Curie. Sporting a white lab coat, the fourth-grader glided from experiment to experiment.

A few feet away, a tiny astronaut stood near his mother. Near the front of the room, a real NASA employee watched the scene at Houston County High School.

Hundreds of children and parents packed the school cafeteria during the district’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math -- or STEM -- Family Night. Students bounced throughout the cafeteria, eager to participate in about 30 experiments led by educators.

For children, it was a hands-on, fun way to learn about such topics. For educators, it was a tool to further teach STEM subjects, as leaders across the nation place an emphasis on science and math-related fields.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal recently signed a proclamation declaring May 3 the first STEM Day for the state, according to a news release.

“It’s crucially important,” said Jan Jacobsen, district director of gifted education and Advanced Placement coordinator. “When our nation is compared globally, we’re not scoring as well as we should. There’s a big movement in our nation to push STEM.”

The event was sponsored by both the Houston County Association for Gifted Children and the Museum of Aviation, which used NASA grant money to pull off STEM night. NASA has allocated a one-year, $430,000 grant to Houston and five other counties to help educate children in science, math, technology and engineering, and teach them about careers in those fields. “It’s very important for the future of our workforce,” said Calla Busby, NASA grant manager and lead STEM specialist.

Students were encouraged to dress as their favorite scientist or anything else related to STEM. Some donned lab coats and carried magnifying glasses as they visited each station. They zoomed toy cars down tracks, assembled Legos, created miniature lava lamps and tiny cyclones in bottles. They worked with cookies, candy and soda.

Children flocked to a table, where a long clear tube snaked from a bucket of ice. Children waved their arms in a plastic bag, then teacher Jennie Frey wrapped the tube around their arms, then blew air inside the tube.

The lesson was about heating and cooling, and students were learning the science behind naturally cooling the body.

Frey was even excited when she first saw the experiment, she said.

“The STEM movement in schools in general is fascinating,” said Frey, who teaches second grade at Morningside Elementary School.

“The more we can interest (students), the more will go into those fields some day.”

Six-year-old Will Shepherd, a kindergartner, already wants to enter a STEM field. Dressed as an astronaut, he has decided to work for the space program when he grows up because “they get to fly in rockets,” he said.

In fact, his favorite topic he has learned in school is addition “because you make the numbers bigger,” he said.

Will’s mother, Amy Shepherd, is a teacher and understands the push to teach children about STEM careers. Events like Friday’s are important in helping children understand those topics, she said.

“It gets them more involved and more interested and more focused,” said Shepherd, of Kathleen.

Jillian Birdsong already is interested in those topics. The fourth-grader wants to be a broadcast meteorologist when she grows up and her favorite subject is science -- something she discovered when tackling a science project.

“I did a project on physics,” she said, “and it was really just, wow.”

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.

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