RUSSIA — A large crowd gathered at Russia Local School, Tuesday, April 17, from 6 to 9 p.m. to experience STEM night.
Similar to what some might call a science fair, STEM night gave parents, families, and friends the opportunity to interact with students and see a variety of projects designed to educate and inspire. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is an education grouping used worldwide. The term, STEM, is typically used when addressing education policy and curriculum choices in schools to improve competitiveness in science and technology development.
The event was hosted by the Sidney-Shelby County Chamber of Commerce and several local businesses. It was overseen by Marcus Petitjean, technology coordinator of Russia Local School. Among others, Petitjean was assisted by high school science teacher Eric Sullenberger, who is the robotics coach, and Heidi Sherman.
The program featured a variety of activities incorporating various areas of scientific study for grades K-12 but focused primarily on grades K-8. After the projects were finished, students had a chance to show their families, friends and other folks in the community what they learned and accomplished. Projects shared by the students included:
• Kindergarten students, who assembled pocket-cars and built things in Lego-land.
• First-grade students, who assembled small race cars with magnets on the bottom instead of wheels. The cars levitated above opposing magnets on a track that was elevated on one end. The cars zoomed effortlessly down the track.
• Second-grade students, who assembled small, wind-powered cars that were propelled by a balloon.
• Third-graders, who cut and glued sheets of tissue paper together to make paper balloons that, when filled with hot air, soared nearly to the top of the gymnasium.
• Fourth-grade students, who built rubber band-powered airplanes, designed and built a lunar lander and a mock-up of a Wright Flyer airplane.
• Fifth-graders, who built and raced miniature soap box derby cars on a track donated by Boy Scout Pack 71. They also built full-size cars that compete in the Soap Box Derby in Akron.
• Sixth-graders, who assembled and painted Estes rockets that will be tested outdoors later along with the hot air balloons.
• Seventh-grade students, who built small, wooden bridges that were tested by adding weight to them until they collapsed and designed and tested CO2-powered drag-racing cars.
• Eighth-graders, who built cars with safety features and eggs for passengers. Cars were propelled at a high rate of speed and slammed into a wall to test their performance and record whether they kept the eggs intact.
• High school studentsm who worked with CNC lathes and mills and a 3D printer.
When quizzed, the students participating in each category had a good understanding of what their projects were about and how they worked. Various elements of competition were displayed during the testing portion of each category, which created a lot of excitement among participants and onlookers. During each operation, many in attendance were applauding and cheering on the participants as each took his or her turn demonstrating their creations.
For Petitjean, it was a very joy-filled and rewarding night, as he and countless others witnessed the fruits of the time and energy invested to make the event a success.
“There is a lot more going on here than meets the eye,” said Petitjean. “A lot of the kids worked really hard on their projects, but it would never have happened without a good measure of community support. Besides the Chamber of Commerce, we had help from local business and industry like O’Reilly Machine Tool services, Custom Foam Products in Fort Loramie and Dale Goubeaux Excavating. It is interesting to note that all the folks that own and operate these businesses are former students of mine and donated to our event partly because of all the fun they had learning in school, years ago, and their desire to help the kids grow in terms of a well-rounded education.”
A veteran with 38 years of teaching experience, Petitjean noted the need to help children grow in a practical or technical sense, as well as academically.
“We used to teach industrial arts in school, but sadly it was eliminated from our curriculum. Years ago, kids learned how to build and repair things, how to work with their minds and hands in a practical or technical way that would benefit them out in the real world after high school, but a lot has changed. I hate to see stereotyping in education, for instance: a child who is not considered ‘gifted’ academically may go far beyond other students in their age group in a practical way but never get the chance because their talents are overlooked, misjudged or unappreciated,” he said.
“I believe every child should have equal opportunity to excel in the areas they are best at. That kind of thing encourages growth and improvement in our society. In a way this program allows everyone the chance to demonstrate their abilities, as the projects are designed to require a variety of qualities to get the job done,” Petitjean said.
Petitjean also shared how his career would never have been the same if not for the opportunity to work with his hands as he improved his education.
“My last two years of high school, I worked at a bicycle shop in Burkettsville after school. Then, after graduation, I continued to work there to help pay my way through college. Had it not been for using my practical and technical skills, I would never have had the opportunity to become an educator. I can’t imagine how differently my life would have turned out,” Petitjean said.
Petitijean is grateful for the opportunity of the event and desires to continue it next year.
“Hopefully, we will be doing this again next year if everything works out. We are thankful the Sidney-Shelby County Chamber of Commerce and others made this a possibility. It’s a great chance for the students to learn something and have a lot of fun in the process. As you can see, it’s very well attended, and I’m thankful to see this level of community spirit at our school.” Petitjean said.
Petitjean also noted there are plans to create a STEM center in the old industrial arts shop room if more grant funding is made available.
“We currently have about 38 different activities planned. I sure hope it comes to fruition for the kids’ sake,” he said.
The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.