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Sandy Journal

Science, math, art embraced by Silver Mesa Elementary community

Feb 05, 2020 01:11PM ● By Julie Slama

Silver Mesa students Ryan and Brielle Tomlinson explore space through virtual reality at their school’s STEAM night. (Photo courtesy of Jeni Larsen)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Silver Mesa parent Jeni Larsen took her first grader Jake to the school’s STEAM — science, technology, engineering, arts and math — night for their first time — and was glad she did.

Wearing virtual reality cardboard goggles, she spun around the galaxy, seeing the sun, planets and space debris and eventually had to sit down as she reached Neptune.

“It was an awesome, realistic way to explore space,” she said about Jake’s and her favorite activity.

Heading to STEAM night, she wasn’t sure about it.

“I wasn’t sure why they incorporated the A for arts in the night, but I’m so glad they did,” she said. “They had replicas of masterpieces from a museum in Spain and immersion kids told us about the paintings in English and Spanish. There was something to get excited about everywhere. Nelson Labs showed how to take a glass of milk, food color, Q-tip of Dawn soap and make tie-dye in a petri glass to explain surface tension. It’s such a big word, but they are able to make it pint size — taking huge theories for kids and showing them ways to understand it.”

The replicas were part of the 100-year anniversary outreach of the Prado, Madrid’s national museum that shared the traveling art exhibit with schools worldwide that teach Spanish, said parent volunteer Alecia Falk. Upper elementary-grade Spanish dual immersion students were able to demonstrate their knowledge of the language and culture with participants, she said.

Larsen joined Jake and his fourth grade brother, Rush, in the InfiniD mobile spaceship, where their team decided to explore a black hole — against the advice of the leader.

“He said that nobody ever returns from the black hole, but we voted and went into the unknown, which got us all killed,” Larsen said. “But it was fun.”

From Hillcrest High’s teacher Clief Castleton and robotics students, Larsen’s sons learned about dash bots, which was a favorite of Rush’s.

“He accidentally crashed into his buddies, but it was still fun for him to learn how to drive,” Larsen said, adding that after the night, Rush asked her “what kind of engineer should I be?”

The fifth annual STEAM night, coordinated by parent volunteer Tiffani Martin, was billed as a “night of discovery.”

Before the event, Martin, who also is an eighth grade science teacher at Joel P. Jensen Middle School in West Jordan, was pumped about the night.

“I’m really excited,” she said. “It has incredible opportunities for students. I love to share my passion and engage students at an early age.”

Students could explore Utah’s earthquakes with a seismograph display and even learn the three biggest earthquakes that occurred on their birthday. They could learn Scratch with Code Ninjas and about instant snow with Little Beakers. With the University of Utah, they discovered optics, light refraction, holograms and light waves and there was a session to discover body movement through yoga. Or they could sit back and be entertained by magician Paul Brewer for a science-themed magic show.

Students highlighted their STEAM talents, displaying science fair and Reflections arts program entries.

The night was created when Silver Mesa parent James Barron expanded the school’s existing science fair for upper grades into an opportunity for the entire school. He saw what other schools’ STEM fairs were like and decided to expand the science fair into a STEAM night, adding the arts component. The popularity of the night has grown quickly, with about 900 students and families attending it two years ago and hallways and rooms were packed again this year.

It followed a new activity at Silver Mesa, a math carnival, that was held in September, and was met with the enthusiasm of hundreds who attended.

“We took a typical carnival and placed math as the emphasis of it,” said Falk, who coordinated the night. “We had kids do worksheets for tickets beforehand and lunch activities so everyone could participate. Then, they could bring their tickets to the Math Carnival as well as go to 15 stations to earn more, then turn them in for prizes.”

The worksheets included having students use critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and grade-level activities ranged from a 100-yard dash incorporating math to playing HedBanz with geometrical shapes, said the former fifth grade teacher, who received help from secondary students to run the booths.

“It was a huge hit and we’ve already had people asking us to do it next year,” she said. “It’s just another way for students to learn the importance of math and how it fits into their learning.”