Interest STEMs from science

Science came alive for girls in the STEM for Girls after school class held at Edison Elementary.

Dozens of fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders hunched over tables, watching intently to see if solutions of vinegar, lemon juice, aspirin or salt water would turn pink or green after they used a pipette to add nine drops of cabbage juice to each solution.

After they tested each solution, they put their heads together and grouped the solutions that turned pink, the solutions that turned green, and those that didn’t turn color at all.

Margaret Spain, a retired teacher who led the group, said this was a lesson in basic chemistry. Acidic solutions, like lemon juice, aspirin and vinegar turned pink, while bases, like milk of magnesia and baking soda, turned green. Those that didn’t turn color included water and salt water, which were deemed neutral solutions.

“It’s giving them an idea that scientists classify,” said Spain.

Spain, along with Edison fourth-grade teachers Melissa Stanley and Sue Kjos, funded the after school class, which met in October and November, through a grant from the Mid-Dakota Educational Cooperative. According to Luke Schaefer, director of the Mid-Dakota Educational Cooperative, the $4,000 grant, which he wrote, was funded through a program called Succeed 2020. Engineers from Minot also visited with the girls during the program. During the sessions, the girls built circuits to power on a light, learned about designing roller coasters and gravity versus force and motion, as well as the cabbage chemistry experiment. Schaefer said they are working on a way to send an electric kit home with each of the girls so they can continue to experiment with circuits and lights.

During most sessions, the fourth- and fifth-graders met at Edison and the sixth-graders met at Ramstad, but on Nov. 15 the two groups got together, with the sixth-graders acting as coaches for the younger girls. Sessions for Ramstad girls have ended, while the Edison girls have one session left.

Spain said she wanted to encourage younger girls to take an interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. There are programs available for older girls, she said, but less was available for those in the upper elementary grades. She said it’s important to spark the girls’ interest at that age, because as they get older they become more involved in after school activities like drama or may lose confidence in their ability to do math and science.

The girls did other projects during the after school program, including measuring and building their own electrical switches.

Fourth-graders Teya Rust and Allex Murray said their favorite part of the after school class was building their own electrical switches. Both girls signed up for the class because they thought it sounded like fun.

Kjos said the electrical switch project is particularly appropriate because it took place at Edison Elementary, which was named for Thomas Edison, the inventor of the light bulb.

Spain said the class was a hit with all of the girls. On a survey the girls filled out after the class was over, one of the Ramstad girls wrote that she liked the class because “You got to make stuff you didn’t even know girls could do.” The science lessons have been so exciting that one of the Edison girls asked why they couldn’t keep meeting for the rest of the school year, said Stanley.