Students teach others using STEM demonstrations

HOUGHTON – Students became the teachers during a special presentation of science, technology, engineering and mathematics demonstrations Friday at Michigan Technological University Friday. High school students from four local school demonstrated principals they had learned at a Michigan Tech science club during the past year to local fourth and fifth grade students.

“This is the culmination of a project we’ve been working on all year. We started four science after school clubs with Calumet, Lake Linden, L’Anse and Hancock,” said Liz Fujita, assistant coordinator for the center for pre-college outreach at Michigan Tech. “The kids come and learn about all these demos and hang out and do science. Now that they’ve been working on these all year they’re here to teach them to younger kids.”

In October, the Michigan Tech Mind Trekkers, a group of students who travel the nation bringing STEM demonstrations to younger students, received an $80,000 grant from the State Farm Youth Advisory Board. The grant was used to fund an afterschool program where students from Calumet, Lake Linden-Hubbell, L’Anse and Hancock high schools learned more about the STEM fields through demonstrations, including many used by the Mind Trekkers when on the road.

During Friday’s event, the high school students were able to teach the same principles they had learned throughout the year to younger students. With approximately 950 fourth and fifth grade students attending the two demonstration sessions, the 110 high school students provided plenty of interesting demonstrations to keep the children busy.

In one demonstration, Zack Korkko, Hancock High School and Erin Gast, Lake Linden-Hubbell High School, helped younger students use a Van de Graaff generator to create static electricity. After touching the generator, the static electricity created causes the person’s hair to stand on end, much like when someone rubs a balloon on his or her hair.

“It’s kind of fun watching their hair stick up and they get a little scared, but it’s a good opportunity to teach people about static electricity,” said Korkko.

“They could get interested in static electricity and maybe something they would like to know more about,” Gast added. “I think people know of it in general, but they always want to try it.”

Increasing that desire to simply “know more” is a main reason Michigan Tech holds these events, Fujita said.

“We want kids to be excited about science and engineering, not just because we’re Michigan Tech but because innovation is the future and we want to help get kids excited about science,” Fujita said.

She also hopes events and activities such as these will help remove some of the negativity young students associate with STEM fields.

“There’s sort of that nasty stigma that science is for geeks and nerds, but it’s fun to be a geek,” she said. “We just want to encourage them to think about science and being a nerd in a positive way.”