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Mt. Jordan students gain hands-on knowledge at STEM Fest

Dec 10, 2019 02:16PM ● By Julie Slama

At STEM Fest, students gain hands-on experiences that are meant to spark their imaginations and make connections. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Last year, Mt. Jordan sixth grade students walked to the Mountain America Expo Center to attend the Utah STEM Action Center’s STEM Fest. This year, eighth graders joined them.

“I had taken them (the sixth graders) as an incentive for consistent use of their intervention software, ALEKS, that we got through a grant from the Utah STEM Action Center,” Mt. Jordan math teacher Katie Nelson said. “We — the other sixth grade teacher, the students and the chaperones — loved it. We opted to go again this year, again using it as a reward for consistent use of their math intervention software.”

STEM Fest is an annual event that attracts up to 20,000 sixth through 10th grade students, who engage in the 500 activities, exhibits and demonstrations focused on science, technology, engineering and math. While the event may lure students into potential future jobs in one of the 50 corporations from across Utah who staff booths, organizers say it’s also meant to be a fun way for students to gain hands-on experiences that will spark their imaginations and make connections with educators and innovators and see how everyday learning is applied to real life.

Nelson said is one of the reasons she appreciates STEM Fest.

“We love the hands-on opportunities and really value the state-wide representation of both higher education and future career options represented at the fest. The students were in small groups with chaperones so that they could explore as they wished, but also have the adult support and interaction to help them recognize and process what they were doing and seeing,” she said, adding that the close proximity is a great draw since the 200 students walk the few blocks from their school. 

Nelson welcomes a chance for students to be captivated by technology.

“We also wanted students to have fun experiences with a variety of science and technology presentations to keep the energy high for their curiosity and learning. We didn't have a specific academic takeaway, just a desire to show our students some of the possibilities here in the state of Utah for innovation,” she said.’’

And that’s just what they did.

Sixth grader Ryder Tracy was intrigued not only by the underwater cars and trying out Top Golf, but also an exhibit in which he was “getting electrocuted.”

“It felt really weird,” said the 11-year-old.

Classmate Weston Tasker’s interest was piqued by an air bubble.

“There was an air bubble that you could go inside,” Weston said. “If you lifted up, then the tent would collapse down.”

Sixth grader Aiden Leon added, “There was a lot of technology there that looked cool. I liked controlling the submarine and picking up the items in the water.”

Nelson said schools can start to sign up for STEM Fest in May; the event is held annually in October. 

“Two years ago, they opened the fest to sixth graders for the first time. I wanted to take students, but it was my first year at Mount Jordan and (I) didn't quite figure out the field trip process in time. I didn't want to pass it up last year, so I signed up as soon as that was an option. I signed up in May this year for our attendance in October. We used this as a reward for personal investment in their own learning and growth through their intervention software. We believe in rewarding that concerted effort,” she said. 

While students went from booth to booth, learning about all the different STEM field options and projects that use those skills, they were both engaged and enlightened, Nelson said.

“We love the variety of groups represented. The students, of course, love the hands-on options and collecting all the swag,” she said. “There was something for everyone there.”

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