Hands-on Learning at Minter Creek STEAM Night


Alice Kinerk

Third-grader Andrew Seffernick builds an electronic snap circuit under the guidance of Kyle Denton of Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. Alice Kinerk, KP News

Hundreds of students, parents, teachers and community members came together Jan. 12 at Minter Creek Elementary School for a night of hands-on learning about science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM). Educators hope these students will one day choose to take on further study and careers in these important fields.

The annual event, known as STEAM Rocks, has expanded significantly since beginning as Math Rocks several years ago. What was once primarily a teacher-run event aimed at getting children interested in math has gained support from the school’s PTA, widened its focus and now includes a variety of organizations, such as the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Key Peninsula Science Foundation and Pierce Conservation District. Each hosts educational activities aimed at enticing young minds toward future study and careers in the sciences.

This year, the name of the event changed a second time, from STEM to STEAM, to include the local artists and art organizations now taking part. While it may seem odd to tie the field of art (associated with personal expression) to the fields of science and math, the event’s focus on applying science and math to real world problem-solving, communication and creativity make it all work together.

Local artist Mardie Rees took part in the event for the first time this year. A wooden duck on her table provided an opportunity for students to try blind contour drawing, an exercise in which an artist draws the outline of an object without looking at the paper. Research suggests that such practice helps access the intuitive, nonverbal right side of the brain, the part used when making observations and problem-solving.

“Art is often left out of the equation when we talk about needing better math and better understanding of sciences, but art is really important,” Rees said. “It can serve the lifelong purpose of being happy.”

Key Peninsula Middle School science teacher Richard Miller, who was helping students build and launch air-powered rockets at the event, said, “Science is vital to the future of our children; adding arts this year is vital to the development of a complete human.”

Heading it all up was Maria Kusche of the Minter Creek PTA. “This is a fun event,” she said. “It’s about getting their minds interested in science, technology, engineering, arts and math. They don’t realize that veterinarians and electronics are all parts of science.”

At the table for Harbor Code Academy, a new group created by local educators including Ann Cook, librarian at Purdy Elementary, students used special markers to draw maps and then set small photo-sensitive robots called Ozobots onto the paper and watched them trace the maps. “We’re trying to bring a STEAM mindset to younger students,” she said. “It’s what the kids want to do.”

“I made a harmonica out of Popsicle sticks,” said Lucy Watkinson, a second-grader at Minter Creek. “I also made a kaleidoscope out of mirror paper, regular paper and a straw,” Watkinson added.

Parents were also impressed by the event. “I think it’s awesome that they’re having this,” said Cathy Hains, mother of Minter Creek fourth-grader Jazzton Hains. “He’s definitely into science and he wanted to come.”

While students and parents alike were wowed by the activities, adults were also aware how much behind-the-scenes work must have gone into the event. “Maria (Kusche) is amazing,” said Amy Barber, the school’s STEAM specialist. “Having kids see the connection to STEAM jobs is huge. Thousands of STEAM jobs go unfilled because people don’t have the education.”

Minter Creek Principal Ty Robuck also credited volunteers. “We are so honored to have a great PTA to organize events like this. Special thanks to Maria Kusche for coordinating. There are so many wonderful organizations here. It’s just to help kids grow and learn,” Robuck said.