The lights go out. Children press together against the barrier. A long, metal tube is lit with dozens of tiny flames. The music starts, and the flames begin to dance.
Central physics majors demonstrated a Rubens’ tube, a device showing the relationship between sound waves and sound pressure, to 150 middle school students at the iExplore STEM festival April 2. Held in Graham Conference Center on campus, the event provided hands-on activities and lessons in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.
“It was a unique experience to see how involved some of the students became and the depth of the questions they asked while we were showing them the sound waves,” says Robert Kleven, a senior physics and chemistry major who demonstrated the Rubens’ tube.
More than 30 Central College students were involved in the fest, ushering middle schoolers to the next station and leading the lessons. The Central math, chemistry, physics and computer science departments all had booths. Also represented were the Blank Park Zoo, World Food Prize, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Pella Corp., Vermeer and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, among other community partners. The event was a collaboration between the Center for Community-Based Learning at Central, led by Cheri Doane, and the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council.
The middle school students built balloon rockets, raced cars on a roller coaster track, constructed paper helicopters, watched a live owl and played with a robot, among other activities.
“I learned about the different jobs and possibilities in the medical field,” says Mary Sales, an eighth grader at Pella Middle School. She particularly enjoyed the presentation by Pella Regional Health Center.
The real stars of the event were the Central faculty, who got the chance to share their expertise with the larger community. Central was also able to showcase its beautiful facilities and strong academic programs to possible future students.
Robert Franks, professor of computer science, showed the kids a “mind-reading” game with playing cards. “It was great seeing all the faces of the kids trying to figure out how my trick was working,” he says. “They just knew that I was memorizing the card pattern when I was doing no such thing. Then someone would shout ‘Oh, I see what you’re doing!’ and be excited to tell us how it was done.”
The Central student volunteers also came away from the STEM night with a new perspective on teaching and learning. Heidi Heckenberg, a first-year art major who took groups to the different stations, says she enjoyed watching the kids learn.
“It was cool to be able to watch as a third party as students learned a little bit more about the topics that interested them.”
By the end of the night, passion for the STEM fields was running high in both the middle school and college students. “Working at the STEM festival was a great opportunity for me to share my love of computer science with young students,” says Melissa Ketcham, a sophomore computer science and math major. “The STEM fields are typically male-dominated, so I felt it was good to show the students that girls are just as important in these fields. It was great to see students working together to solve problems.”