Friday, January 28, 2022

STEM or STEAM: What’s the Difference? I’ll Tell You!

Rumination from the Rock and Beyond

Photos by Jory WestberryOK

For 8 years, the Collier County School District has sponsored a STEM Conference for the students, teachers, parents and community members and it has been remarkably well-attended each year. In fact, the attendance has increased by leaps and bounds each year, including this year. 

In the beginning, the STEM Conference (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) introduced lively Science experiments along with pertinent information and there were break-out sessions of interest mostly conducted by school district employees. Participants signed up for the sessions they were interested in and were entranced by the new information they received. 

Fast forward to 2020. In the ninth year of the event when the name was changed to the STEAM Expo, which included the A for the Arts for the first time. It’s not that the arts weren’t represented in the past because drumming/physical activity meshed, dancing, visual arts and more were included, but this year there were opportunities for participants to create their own artwork and take it home. The artwork that was already on display was beautiful as you can see from the photos included. 

So, what’s so special about the STEM Conference or STEAM ExpoKate the Chemist returned for the second year to the ovation of the participants. Last year’s show was spectacular, and this year’s show was bigger and “bangy-er” than last year’s show. It’s exciting for students, teachers, parents and community members; it has a wide variety of activities and events to engage your imagination, creativity and engineering skills. A record number of students are bussed in from as far away as Immokalee to participate. The level of enthusiasm rises each year with the continued improvements. Activities are placed throughout the Golden Gate High School complex with accessibility and interests considered for the participants. And most of all, it’s a great way to spend a Saturday morning, rainy or shiny! 

With the significant addition of more Arts events this year, there was an area that highlighted the singing and dancing talents of many CCPS students near the creative arts area including the Pottery Palooza, Get Creative with 3D to make a custom emoji, Bead Bracelets, Pre-K Brains and Music, Design a Sailboat, Specdrums, Drumbeat Fitness, interactive experiences including scratch art, painting with straws, a collaborative dot mural and more to satisfy your creative soul. 

After a few introductions, including a Welcome from Superintendent Dr. Kamala Patton, the Keynote scientist was introduced. The audience was “standing and sitting room only” with students, teachers, parents and community members who were wowed by the experiments (with explanations) by Kate the Chemist. Dr. Kate Biberdorf, Professor of Chemistry and the Director of Demonstrations and Outreach for The University of Texas at Austin with a Ph.Din Inorganic Chemistry. She originally earned a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry and German from the University of Michigan. 

Dr. Biberdorf found obstacles on her Science journey. Many of her female peers were dismissed because of their gender. Women have many hurdles to face when trying to advance in Science academia and professions. Dr. Biberdorf hopes to inspire a new generation of scientists judged not on their gender or race, but on the value of their merit, expertise and dedication. 

Events and sessions during the day were spaced throughout the building to allow many adventurous spectators to take in or try what was presented. Here’s a short list of some of the cool topics: Turn Yourself into a Meteorologist, VEX Robotics, CSI: Collier Student Investigators, 3D Printing – The Future of Engineering, Virtual Guts, Blast Off with Rockets, Wizarding World of Coding, The Great Lego Balloon Car Race, Using Gravity to Go UP! and many more exciting sessions. 

One of the best things about the STEAM Expo and the STEM Conferences in the past is the eager involvement of parents with their children. In some cases, it’s a single parent with the children, and the enthusiasm just bubbles to the ceiling as parent and child work together to create, solve, play, explore and have fun with Science. 

At the conclusion of the day, the finalists in the Collier County Science Fair were introduced by CCPS Science Coordinator, Ryan Westberrywho announced the first – third place winners of the Collier County Science Fair and those who would compete in the Florida State Science Fair coming up in April. Some very interesting topics were researched by the students, including: Strengthening Different Variations of Parameterized Sequences in a Relationship-Database to Prevent Hackers Collecting Vulnerabilities Using the Method of Structured Query Language Injection. What? Really? Done by a middle school student? Here’s another: Investigating the Effect of Different Widths of Mars Rover Wheel on the Amount of Electrostatic Charges on Mars Regolith Dust After Agitation. This high school student actually built a model of the Mars Rover to test his hypothesis! Both of these are going to the Florida State Science Fair Competition, while I had a hard time reading the titles! There’s great teaching going on in Collier County Public Schools along with great STEAM Expos. 

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