Expos are a great way to showcase STEM. Hands-on activities (rather than simply exhibits) have a way of drawing young people in and that was certainly the case for SySTEMic Solutions last month when we held two Expos on the same day: our STEMZone at the Youth For Tomorrow Country Fair and the Loudoun STEM Day, held at the NOVA Loudoun Campus on Oct 1.
Every fall for the last 30 years The Youth For Tomorrow Country Fair in Bristow has been northern Virginia’s most affordable family fun festival. It serves as a fundraiser for at-risk and underrepresented youth and families who need counseling. It is a vibrant community partnership and we were thrilled to have our STEMzone be part of it.
Our STEMZone was designed to get kids and their parents involved in our hands-on STEM activities and introduce them to programs that can ignite a lasting interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.
How did we do this? Well, under three 20×40 tents and seven 10×10 tents we set up separate stations with multiple activities under each banner of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Every student coming to the STEMZone received a passport with the letters of ‘STEM’ highlighted with an empty space beneath. Once they completed designated hands-on activities they would receive a sticker from a volunteer and place it under the corresponding STEM letter. Once they got all 4 they turned in their passport for a prize and also went into the drawing for one of the grand prizes, a brand new VEX robot or a Dronium III AP Protocol Drone!
There were multiple engaging STEM activities. Children could play robot basketball, design an object in CAD, watch 3D printers print out T-Rex skulls, Millenium Falcons, and nuts and bolts. They could build and launch stomp rockets as well as snuffing out a simulated cyber-threat on a laptop at the cybersecurity station. They could try a drone simulator and better yet, go over to our indoor Drone Zone and fly a drone through an obstacle course.
As we’ve experienced with any of our hands-on activities, the interest was high and the participation non-stop for all age groups. About 1200 people came through our STEMZone and we received about 200 completed passports from students who actively took part in 4 or more STEM activities.
Our goal is for many of these students to be transformed from a preliminary STEM engagement to pursuing STEM education and beyond. We are able to follow up with registered participants to inform them about Robotics Competitions, STEM Camps, STEMinars and other NOVA opportunities that will aid them onto a pathway that hopefully leads to a STEM career.
Loudoun STEM Day – NOVA Loudoun Campus
At NOVA’s second annual STEM day, excited families came flooding in (along with the rain) at 10:00am and the flow of traffic continued throughout the afternoon.
NOVA faculty & staff, Liberty Elementary (LCPS) faculty, NOVA student volunteers, and over 20 exhibitors from STEM-related businesses, non-profits, and LCPS student clubs were on hand to provide an exciting and informative experience for students and parents alike.
Platinum sponsor AOL demonstrated virtual reality technologies and had a never-ending line of attendees wanting to try it out. Our own Robotics-Land attracted people of all ages to the robotics fields and also our 3D printing display. Robotics for Kids, Federation of Galaxy Explorers, and Belmont Ridge Middle School Robotics showed off their signature creations.
Our partners at Liberty Elementary School brought along their coolest gadgets and facilitated activities featuring Ozobots, Spheros, coding, and a maker space. Our interactive Pokemon GO! treasure hunts, facilitated by NOVA’s Geographic Information Systems program, had hundreds of Poke’ players exploring campus for new finds!
In the Science Building, visitors were amazed by chemistry experiments, piranha plants in Horticulture, and several biology demonstrations. Throughout the campus there were challenges and exhibits ranging from Exploring Mars and Coding 101 to The Science of Music, Drones Take Flight and dozens more! Diverse activities for a diverse audience!
Julie Leidig, Provost at NOVA Loudoun, was enthusiastic about the effect of the Expo, saying “The Loudoun County STEM Day is designed to capitalize on the natural enthusiasm so many kids have for science and technology before they begin to have the thought that STEM fields are not for them. Our goal is to work with our partners to showcase the wide variety of STEM applications in the world of work and play and to spark kids’ interest in furthering their knowledge. It’s a joy to walk around and see kids and their families engaged in discovery. One of the long-term goals is to help build the economy of Northern Virginia by developing a highly skilled STEM workforce. But even for kids whose career interests lie in a different direction, we want them to experience the positive applications of STEM in any field.”
Overall, about 1600 people attended Loudoun STEM Day and 330 STEM passports were submitted, allowing us to follow up with students for further STEM camp, courses, and competition opportunities in the near future!