For Chris Boar, Community Outreach Coordinator for Bayer Muscatine, helping students develop an interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) represents an important challenge. “The future is STEM careers, and I think it’s important to spark kids’ interest. The more hands-on learning they can do, the better,” she stated. To help students develop a love of STEM early, Bayer hosted their annual STEM Day for Muscatine Community School District fifth graders on November 6th at the Muscatine Agricultural Learning Center (MALC).
According to Travis Franke, a Leader for Bayer’s Formulations Unit, students who attended the event get to travel through several stations and participate in hands-on demonstrations to bring science concepts alive. Bayer employees, as well as community partners, help make each station possible.
As an introduction to polymers, Dana Yerington of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, provided a number of experiments to allow students to create polymers and see how they behave. “We’re making instant snow and worms,” she elaborated. “We also talked about gels and how in Arizona and California they use them in posts to hold water. So, even though it’s fun, they still are learning real ag science.”
To see chemical reactions in progress, Bayer employees worked with kids to show how one of their signature products, Alka Seltzer, creates enough carbon dioxide when mixed with water to power a tiny rocket. For fifth grader Randy Stanbro, this experiment proved a highlight of the day. “I think I like the rocket one best, actually. It went higher than the light, which was cool, and it showed that if you put more [weight] in it won’t go as high, but if you put less in it will go higher.”
Elsewhere in the MALC, students discovered states of matter with dry ice, saw thermal currents and momentum at work with a fire tornado, air pressure with an air cannon and a fog machine, frequency with strobe lights, non-Newtonian fluids with Oobleck, and static electricity with a Van De Graaff Generator. As an added benefit, children also got up close with agriculture with the help of several Muscatine FFA students. Jacob Draves, a junior in the FFA program, explained that he and fellow volunteers gave them, “the whole rundown on animal science.”
By introducing them to some of the FFA animals that live at the MALC, discussing animal feed, and giving them insights into animal behavior, the FFA volunteers gave children a taste of what agricultural workers experience daily. Franke considers this component of STEM Day every bit as important as the experiments. “We also want to add the ag piece to education,” he emphasized.
With the help of fifty Bayer employees and forty FFA volunteers, STEM Day successfully helped bring this year’s class of fifth graders interest in STEM to a whole new level. As this event continues in the years to come, its blend of hands-on fun and serious science will continue to inspire students to study STEM in the future.