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Pretty good for popsicle sticks: 10-year old Cedar Halvorsen, a fifth-grader in Mr. West’s class at Minter Creek Elementary School. Photo: Lisa Bryan, KP News

Hundreds of people packed Minter Creek Elementary School Jan. 31 for the school’s annual STEAM Rocks! night, promoting interest in science, technology, engineering, art and math for its students.

Displays and hands-on demonstrations were set up throughout the school by teachers and PTA members to engage kids with STEAM topics. Some of the most popular activities included building towers from marshmallows and toothpicks, mixing chemicals to create slime, and solving math puzzles. 

In addition to the school and PTA presentations, several booths were occupied by local businesses and organizations looking to demonstrate real-world applications of STEAM. 

One of the most popular displays was Puget Sound Naval Shipyard’s ROVs, small robots that operated in a tank of water and could be remotely controlled by attendees. 

Other presenters included America’s Car Museum, Harbor Wild Watch and multiple Pierce County agencies. Attending students were given a passport with a map of each booth and encouraged to visit them all, and received a STEAM-themed gift at the end of the night.

Another activity that drew a crowd was the strength-testing of popsicle stick bridges, designed and built over several weeks by Minter Creek fifth-graders. The bridges were placed in a hydraulic press and force was slowly applied, while the amount of weight the bridge could take was displayed on a nearby projector. The winning bridge, constructed by fifth-graders Jonathan and Andrew, weighed less than half a pound but was able to sustain over 130 pounds of force before breaking.

Students at the event responded positively, especially to some of the high-tech displays in the gym. Many students mentioned the robotics displays as a favorite, along with an area where they could try out virtual reality headsets.

The winning bridge sustained over 130 pounds of force.  

“I really enjoyed the virtual reality goggles. I’d like to expand on that idea,” said Eaton Hansonsmith, a Minter Creek fourth-grader.

According to its presenters, the goal of the event is not to provide detailed instruction, but to spark interest and demonstrate some of the career paths available to students. “It’s just a way to integrate arts, science, and technology into the classroom,” said Dawn Barnes, a Title I reading specialist at Minter Creek. 

Barnes said that a large portion of classroom time is taken up with basic reading and writing, and it’s sometimes difficult to give other topics the time they deserve. Special events like STEAM Rocks! help to show students other educational opportunities and how areas of learning intersect with each other. “I’ve found that after events like this, when you do classroom activities and one of the options is taking it down a STEAM route, kids will choose that because they have participated in things that get them thinking in different ways,” she said.

While STEAM Rocks! has been running for several years at Minter Creek, the name and purpose has shifted over time. The original event was focused only on mathematics and was accordingly titled “Math Rocks!” but the scope broadened about four years ago to include more fields of emphasis for the school. 

“There’s tons of information out there that says that if you don’t get kids—especially girls—interested in the science, technology and engineering fields by the time they’re in fifth grade, they lose it. They have no interest, and they don’t continue on,” said Maria Kusche of the Minter Creek PTA. Kusche has overseen the event for the last six years, and presided over its switch to a STEM focus, and more recently, its inclusion of art and rebranding as STEAM.

STEAM Rocks! draws a large crowd every year and, according to Kusche, is the best-attended event that the Minter Creek PTA presents. Kusche put the average turnout at around 250 students out of a student body of about 400.

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