By MAGGIE MCMURRAY
Moapa Valley Progress
Over fifty local youth were treated to a day of learning about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) on Friday, Jan. 5, courtesy of University of Nevada Cooperative Extension (UNCE). The program was put on by the Logandale UNCE office under the direction of Lacey Sproul-Tom, local 4-H community-based instructor.
Guest teachers from the main UNCE office in Las Vegas traveled out to Moapa Valley to put on the program, which was free to participants. Students were asked to pre-register for the program, which was capped at forty participants. But on the day of the event, about fifteen kids who hadn’t registered showed up and were allowed to participate, making it a sell-out crowd. Staff was thrilled with the overwhelming response from the community, which shows a need for more programs like this.
Participants were sorted into two groups based on whether they preferred chocolate or vanilla ice cream. One group went to learn to fly drones, while the other group learned principles of bridge building, electricity, and polymers. After a lunch at midday, the groups switched places so that all participants were able to attend all the classes.
The drone classes were taught by Deshea Wallace, Adriana Hernandez, and Marcias Washington. They brought several very large drones for the kids to take turns flying.
Due to the high cost of these drones, however, the day began with an instructional class on what drones are, what they are used for, and how they are used. It also included the rules and instructions for flying the different drones.
After being instructed, the kids were taken to a large field and allowed to pilot the drones via an tablet computer. The drones were big enough to have about thirty minutes of battery life per charge. But the staff brought extra batteries as well to make sure all the kids were able to participate.
UNCE’s drone program is fairly new. Wallace explained why they have added it to their curriculum. “Drones teach a different aspect of the STEM curriculum that is not covered by other things,” she said.
“So that makes them really fun. It’s exciting for the kids as well because they are so new and everyone either has one or has heard of them. It’s a really fun application of STEM principles.”
The other classes were taught by UNCE Program Officer Karen Best and Community-Based Instructor Luisa Ixmatlahua.
They began with bridge building. Teams of two or three were issued a K’Nex bridge building kit. Each team was assigned a different type bridge to build.
After building their bridge, the kids also had to use a computer to research the pros and cons of that type of bridge, where it is used, and what it is used for. They prepared a short presentation of their findings for the rest of the class.
Best said that while she is there to help, she likes letting the kids complete their projects by themselves and then teach each other. She believes that that hands on learning and peer interaction is more engaging than listening to adult presentations.
“Each group gets a different bridge so they can become the expert on that bridge,” Best said. “Then they get a chance to review, learn, and share information about their bridge, which is part of learning leadership.”
In addition to bridge building, Best and Ixmatlahua also taught a class on circuitry. Participants learned to build a simple electronic circuit, add a switch, and make a parallel and series circuit.
Kids also learned about polymers used in soil. Each did an experiment with Soil Moist, a polymer that is added to soil to keep it moist using the same type of ingredients found in disposable diapers. They were able to see how the polymer soaks up water and talked about how this could be useful in arid climates like Southern Nevada, especially for areas that are hard to water like landscaping along freeways.
Kids who participated were excited about the day. Many said they loved the chance to be able to learn and build and experiment, while still being able to get help when they needed it.
“The whole day was a lot of fun,” said Warren Potts, 13. “If I had to pick a favorite thing, it would be flying the drones. I also loved the section on electrical currents because I learned a lot.”
Hunter Landini, 12, agreed, saying, “My favorite thing was the circuitry because I didn’t know much about it. I also loved building bridges.”
Best explained the purpose behind learning activities such as these. “Very often we are giving kids an opportunity to try something they have never tried before,” she said. “Hopefully it will strike something in them or help them become excited about STEM fields.”
The local UNCE office was thrilled with the number of participants. Diana Walker, administrative assistant said, “We had a great turnout and we’re glad for all the community support.”
Lacey Sproul-Tom said, “It’s great to expose our youth to the various aspects of 4-H. 4-H is not all cows, sows, and plows. Science is cool and science-based activities are a lot of fun while being great learning experiences at the same time.”