STEM Club spreads science excitement
Published 4:01 pm Wednesday, November 6, 2013
EDWARDSBURG — A post-Halloween pumpkin belching foam puts the show in show and tell.
So do conjuring crystal balls out of thin air, mind-reading and shrink-wrapping Eagle Lake Elementary School second and third graders in trash bags.
Today’s tactile students prefer hands-on to lectures or PowerPoints, so that’s how Southwestern Michigan College STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Club packages the presentation it adapted from Mind Trekkers and took on the road Nov. 1 to the school where SMC physics instructor Andrew Dohm’s son attends third grade and his wife, Nichole, teaches.
In February 2012, Michigan Technological University in Houghton brought Mind Trekkers to the Dowagiac campus with a cavalcade of fun activities demonstrating complex principles such as vortexes, magnetism and friction to 500 high school seniors.
Dohm and mathematics instructor Mark Pelfry, who started a “STEM, Study and Snacks” group which meets on Fridays, are joined by eight SMC students, Matthew Jacobs of Three Rivers, Jason Carberry of Edwardsburg, Will Ryan of Constantine, Kathleen Clark of Buchanan, Matthew Knapper of Berrien Springs, Cody Mikel of Marcellus, Paige Coffeen of Sodus and Alex Flick of Niles.
They guide four classrooms through five stations of experiments designed to engage them in fun while imparting knowledge they don’t realize they absorbed until later.
Clark credits Science Olympiad for whetting her interest.
Coffeen’s dad bought her science kits and “I liked it. In English, you can’t put words together and get Silly Putty. It’s not as cool.” She aspires to be an electrical engineer.
Coffeen works in a lab at Whirlpool, where she started interning at 16.
Ryan’s table taught polymers, where gooey Flubber results from “long strands of molecules attached. The color change (starting with orange liquid in a beaker with a jack-o’-lantern face drawn on) demonstrated chemical reactions of different solutions — adding a base changes it to blue, adding an acid changes it back.”
The “coolest” one, literally, used dry ice — the solid form of carbon dioxide — to blow bowl-sized soap bubbles which rise until they look like crystal balls.
Pelfry’s mind-reading is more math than magic. Submerging three dice in a pitcher of water, if the visible sides show six, six and five, he knows the hidden sides must be one, one and two to make seven, so correctly guesses four as their total unseen.
“After Mind Trekkers, we said, ‘We could do this.’ Last January we started STEM Club,” Dohm said, “which gets STEM students together to interact with each other and with faculty. The club is also an outreach to be able to go into the community and excite future students about STEM by teaching them science in a fun way.
“We did our first road show here last April, entertaining 120 kids who loved it for two hours — and our students get just as much out of it. You can see on their faces what the chance to be teachers for a day means. I want to roll this out on some scale to Dowagiac and Cassopolis. I’d love for the college to be the hub of STEM activities and plant that seed early that we are a resource.”
“We have great students like this who are willing to take time out of their day,” Dohm added. “The club met twice in October. I showed them a lot of these things, then gave them the assignment to find things they could add to what I call our menu. The second meeting, they showed me what they found.”