Independence School hosts STEM Fest
The halls of The Independence School last week were filled with the sounds of balloons bursting, bubbles popping and dollar bills burning.
The Michigan Tech Mind Trekkers were back in town.
The Mind Trekkers, a group of undergraduate and graduate students from Michigan Technological University, brought their road show of more than 40 interactive STEM-related experiments to the school on April 14, much to the delight of about 650 Newark kids and their families.
“It’s amazing,” said Tasha Taylor of Newark, shortly after watching her 4-year-old daughter Ava stand inside a giant bubble. “It’s a great learning experience.”
Taylor and her three children were just some of the people able to secure tickets to STEM Fest, which was open to both Independence School families and the general public at no cost. The Mind Trekkers first came to the school in 2014, when about 450 people came. This time, the school capped attendance at 650 and still sold out, said Head of School Vicky Yatzus.
Yatzus attributed the success of the event to Mind Trekkers’ hands-on approach and said the school hopes kids come away excited about science, technology, engineering and math fields.
“They realize STEM isn’t just math and test tubes,” she said. “It’s all kinds of things.”
At the event, some of those things included burning a dollar bill without charring it, building boats out of aluminum foil, fireproofing an ordinary balloon and creating a giant bubble big enough for kids to stand inside.
After a brief introduction by Yatzus, attendees were free to experience STEM Fest at their own pace and choose which experiments to watch or take part in. While many of the experiments were run by the Mind Trekkers, others were run by Independence School alumni and parents.
Parental involvement is also how the Mind Trekkers came to the school in the first place. About three years ago, a group of parents at the school started the Growing STEM committee, which works to expand STEM opportunities at the school.
The group was looking to host a STEM event and found out about the Mind Trekkers while doing research online. In 2014, the Mind Trekkers were able to stop in Newark on their way to the U.S. Science and Engineering Festival and the timing worked out well for them to do the same thing this year, said Dr. Kieran Connolly, an ear, nose and throat doctor who has three students at the school, and was one of the co-chairs of the STEM Fest committee.
“We like the hands-on aspect because it’s fun, and kids remember what’s fun,” he said.
Part of that fun for many kids was watching the experiments involving fire or explosions, which typically had some of the larger crowds. Zoe Sutton, one of the Mind Trekkers, was running an experiment that shows students how to burn a dollar bill without charring it.
The secret, she said, is a water and alcohol mixture coated on the bill. While the highly flammable alcohol burns, the water keeps the bill damp enough that the bill itself doesn’t burn.
“I love the looks on kids’ faces when they see something they can’t initially explain,” Sutton said.