VUSD wraps up on new STEM Night events

At Visalia Unified School District’s STEM Night events, young students and their parents were given a chance to explore some STEM-centric activities together to learn more about science, technology, engineering and mathematics.(Visalia Unified School District)

Visalia Unified School District’s newly launched STEM Night events bring parents, students together through activities

VISALIA – Visalia Unified School District started a new program this year called STEM Nights to help introduce elementary school-age children and their parents to the possibility of future careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics-based fields.

“This came about because we wanted to have science out in the elementary schools, out in the community,” Jim Billingsly, director of STEM for VUSD, said at the final event. “This is a way in which we can kind of see how science is in the everyday world and provide that excitement for STEM careers.”

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math. STEM instructors with VUSD put together the event with the hope that students and parents would become more engaged with the various aspects of STEM education.

For its first year, the group put on eight STEM Night events and the “open house-style” gatherings proved popular, Billingsly said. The events have been held at Four Creeks Elementary School in Visalia and have drawn between 150 and 200 students at each event.

Billingsly showed an example of one of the booths at the event that described to students the life cycles of mosquitoes and provided scientific information about methods used to prevent mosquito populations from increasing. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control states that mosquitoes are the deadliest animal on Earth, killing over one million people worldwide every year. In comparison, sharks, a commonly-feared animal, kill an average of about four people every year.

The mosquito display was put together as a group project by students at Four Creeks. Cali Luna was one of the group members who built the display and gathered the information for the booth. Through the creation of the display, Luna, a fifth-grade student at the school, said she learned some interesting facts about the deadly insects she did not know previously.

“I learned that where they suck the blood, they have six needles, one is to separate the skin, and then there are other ones to pierce through the skin, and the other ones are to find the vein where the blood is,” Luna said.

Four Creeks principal Lisa Majarian said the event is about much more than just exposing students and families to STEM opportunities. She said the STEM Nights are really about the community.

“We have lots of families here tonight just to enjoy an opportunity to come and learn together as they go through the different stations,” Majarian said. “I really believe that all of teaching starts at home with our parents, and this gives parents an opportunity to come and really engage with their students.”

“It also builds that community support around our neighborhood that this is a great place to be,” Majarian added.

One of the popular booths was the “float booth.” At this station, students were tasked with crafting a boat out of aluminum foils, tape and straws. The boat is then floated in a kiddie pool and beads are added to see how well the boat functions to hold the capacity. Second-grade teacher Angela Parish said the experiment tests whether the boat sinks due to the volume of the water or the density of the boat.

“The students are having lots of fun, they are very creative,” Parish said.

Many areas of research and societal investigation indicate the importance of introducing young students to the concepts of STEM. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates the growth of STEM-related jobs will outpace all other professions by 2030. The impacts of early education in the field are anticipated to be most profound in low-income regions. The U.S. News and World Reports states that 82% of Four Creeks Elementary students are economically challenged.

“STEM education nurtures innovation and creativity among students,” The National Science and Math Institute writes. “It encourages them to think outside the box, explore new ideas and develop inventive solutions to real-world problems. Low-income school districts can inspire students to become future innovators and change-makers in their communities by fostering a culture of curiosity and experimentation.”

Events such as Four Creeks Elementary’s STEM Night not only open the possibilities of futures in the discipline to students and parents, but they can also foster inspiration for other disciplines by exposing students to the joy of learning.

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