On Friday, Nov. 22, more than 1,000 fourth through eighth grade students descended upon Pima Community College’s Northwest Campus to experience science first hand. The Arizona STEM Adventure invites students and teachers from multiple school districts to learn about science from local organizations, such as Tucson Electric Power, the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association, Serenity Aerospace and the University of Arizona’s Flandrau Science Center.
But for the first time, students visited from the Phoenix, San Simon and Willcox areas.
“I think this was our widest reach, in terms of applicants, which is cool because that means the reputation is spreading,” said SARSEF CEO Liz Baker-Bowman. “It’s really going to be a statewide event this year, whereas before it was really more for Southern Arizona.”
SARSEF, or the Southern Arizona Research, Science and Education Foundation, organizes the STEM Adventure alongside the college and the STEMAZing Project.
The event has Pima student volunteers lead groups of children to various booths where they learn about a wide range of science: a booth operated by TEP shows electrical currents running through powerlines; solar ovens bake cookies using sunlight; another booth allows students to make their own silly putty.
The list of participating schools included locals like Quail Run and Nash Elementary, as well as Willcox Middle School, Corona Foothills Middle School and San Carlos Middle School.
This was the fifth year the Arizona STEM Adventure, previously known as SARSEF’s “FunFest,” took place on Pima’s campus. Baker-Bowman said the main reason SARSEF moved the STEM Adventure to the college was to connect local students to higher education.
“It’s important to get our students on a college campus,” she said. “Because we’re focusing on Title 1 schools and rural areas, a lot of our students just don’t have exposure to a university or college. It’s difficult for them to picture themselves going to a college if they don’t have an attachment. But because we’re catching them younger, we’re able to hopefully get them to visualize themselves here. And having them talk to college students makes it even more approachable.”
The day saw 265 volunteers, many of whom were Pima students, working with the visiting kids. Some of the volunteers even participated in the booths, such as riding a stationary bicycle to power lightbulbs.
“I’ve actually never been here before, but I didn’t expect the kids to be so excited about it,” said Pima biology student and STEM Adventure volunteer Jeff Tennyson. “They’re excited about all the booths, especially the ice cream-making booth.”
While the school children are busy exploring the various booths, their teachers attend a special professional development workshop conducted by the STEMAZing Project, an organization run through the Pima County Office of the Superintendent working to improve science education.
“We have a very specific model, and our model is teachers get their hands on whatever we’re teaching them,” said STEMAZing Director DaNel Hogan. “We engage them both as a learner and as an educator, so that they see both sides of it. And then critically important to us: they get the things they need to be able to go and engage their students the next day.”
All teachers left the professional development workshop with an estimated $175 in classroom supplies, provided by the event organizers and sponsors Raytheon and IBM. These supplies included scientific tools such as digital scales, infrared thermometers, graduated cylinders, measuring cups and meter sticks.
“In the past, when we’ve asked teachers what are the barriers for letting students design their own experiments, it’s always been data collection devices and materials to do experiments,” Hogan said. “Part of the goal of what we give them is that we open up the door for their students to be able to collect data on a wide variety of different projects.”
The teachers also each received a collection of matchbox cars, based on a project about female race car driver Ewy Rosqvist.
“We used it as an example to show teachers how their students can ask their own questions, design their own experiments and collect their own data,” Hogan said. “Our goal overall is to get students to participate in the Science and Engineering Fair, and so we need to help teachers with the way they engage their students.”
While an estimated 1,030 students and 49 teachers attended the 2019 Arizona STEM Adventure, far more will be impacted. Many of the teachers who attended the professional development workshop were not able to bring their classes to the STEM Adventure, but will bring teaching and classroom tools back with them. Arizona STEM Adventure staff estimate 3,301 students will be impacted from what the teachers learned.
“Every year, we say ‘oh wow, this was the best one yet,’” Hogan said. “But honestly and truthfully, this was the best one ever. And that’s saying a lot.”