STEM girls teach science to other kids

Learning about science

Andrea Johnson/MDN Edison Elementary fifth-grader Arriana Buchanan and Edison fourth-grader Katie Wiekamp build a tower out of index cards.

Markelle Alexander and Emma Rensvold were teaching other kids on Friday how to propel a Starburst candy across the room using a catapult made of Popsicle sticks bound together with rubber bands.

It was the sort of object that might earn a youngster detention under other circumstances, but not Friday. The girls, both sixth-graders at Jim Hill Middle School, are members of the after-school program STEM Girls that teaches girls how to problem solve.

“We know that if we don’t get them (interested in the sciences) by fourth grade, we might not get them at all,” said Luke Schaefer, executive director of the Missouri River Education Cooperative and Mid-Dakota Education Cooperative.

Sue Kjos, one of the leaders of the STEM Girls group, said the activities were geared toward teaching children to predict, estimate and measure.

“They’re doing a lot of measuring,” she said.

Andrea Johnson/MDN Jim Hill Middle School sixth-graders Markelle Alexander and Emma Rensvold build a catapult out of Popsicle sticks, rubber bands and a Starburst candy on Friday during the Stem event held at Minot State University.

Kjos and Schaefer said the Mid-Dakota Education Cooperative hosted STEM Day at Minot State’s Swain Hall on Friday. Other partners in the project included Minot Public Schools and Minot State University. Funding came from North Dakota Center for Career and Technical Education. Schaefer said the group has also received a lot of help from Ackerman Estvold Engineering.

About 19 fourth- through eighth-grade girls in the STEM Girls group were on hand to teach classes of fourth-graders how to do different challenges, such as the catapult challenge led by Markelle and Emma, and the challenge of building a tower out of index cards, led by Arriana Buchanan, a fifth-grader at Edison Elementary, and Katie Wiekamp, a fourth-grader at Edison.

Markelle, Emma, Arriana and Katie all said they enjoy a challenge and they like having the chance to try things in their after school group that they would not have an opportunity to try in the classroom. The skills will be useful in future careers like engineering.

And, of course, it’s a lot of fun.

Other teachers from the district also attended the event so they could reproduce the challenges in science lessons in their own classrooms.

The STEM girls group is led by Kjos and Melissa Stanley, both of whom had taught at Edison. Stanley is the current professional learning coordinator for the school district and Kjos has retired.

Kjos said Friday that the afterschool STEM group gets together once a month and does a science challenge each time. The group started at Edison but has grown over the years and also includes older girls, some of whom who were former students. Their mission statement is to learn and help others learn about science.

Kjos said she wants the girls in the group to be brave enough to take the advanced science classes that are available in high school.