The second annual STEM Exploration Night combined education and fun Wednesday, March 28, at Todd Beamer High School, and the Federal Way Public Schools students and families who attended were not complaining.
The purpose of the FWPS expo was to invite participants to explore and learn about science, technology, engineering and math in a fun environment while being informed about future career opportunities in STEM and possibly prepare for a future in those industries. But mostly it was about the fun.
At one of the booths in the Todd Beamer gymnasium, Rainier View Elementary fifth-grade teacher Glyn Jenkins and some of his students demonstrated a Rube Goldberg machine, which is a contraption featuring a number of devices that do different tasks on their own but are activated and produce a chain domino effect when linked together and activated, in this case, by a metal ball.
Jenkins said he and his class began engineering and assembling the device a week ago.
“The huge thing is watching the kids problem solve,” he said, adding STEM is all about problem solving.
Jenkins said that the Rube Goldberg machine, which is named after an American cartoonist who invented such contraptions, is his students’ latest science project. He said groups of students designed their own section of the contraption and then worked with each other to piece it together and test it.
With different standards and requirements students must learn, their schedule is pretty full, so it is nice when an exciting and educational project can be included in class time, Jenkins said.
“The fun is when the lines merge, where fun and science merge,” he said, adding his students became invested in the project.
In the corner of the gym, the Thomas Jefferson and Federal Way High School robotics teams demonstrated their projects for the competition year. Thomas Jefferson’s robotics team, Raider Artificial Intelligence Division, built a robot that both picked up and launched a ball, in this case in the waiting hands of a group of children and families.
Next door, the Federal Way High School robotics team, the RoboEagles, showed off their project, a robot that moved around and picked up a large rectangular block and dropped it off on a nearby platform. With RoboEagle team members guiding them, students tried their hand at maneuvering the robot and picking up the block and dropping it on a flatbed dolly cart that FWHS sophomore Meghan Kon held still.
Kon said it was fun to watch the younger students wield the joystick that moved the robot and see their excitement.
“It’s so cool because when I was younger, I didn’t really have STEM night,” she said, adding she became interested in robotics because of an older brother.
In addition to the Rainier View and robotics teams’ presentations, children tested other student-designed projects at booths in the Todd Beamer gym, or visited with representatives from different educational programs, like Bates Technical College, and possible STEM employers, such as Boeing. In total, representatives manned 91 different booths at STEM Exploration Night. There were also a number of other presentations offered at the high school, including a panel of women who spoke about making their careers in STEM and discussed how to interest more girls and women in joining the STEM fields. Visitors also got to test out their coding skills at a Hack-a-Thon event and drive Sphero robots through a miniature golf hole.