Nine Flagler Palm Coast High School Internal Baccalaureate students have been excited about STEM (science, technology engineering and math) since they were in elementary school.
They hope to spread their excitement to a new generation of students through countywide STEM clubs in which the high school students work with elementary school students conducting hands-on experiments that correlate to their grade-level curriculum.
“We wanted to be able to foster an interest in STEM at a young age and keep them interested in it as they move through school,” Abigail Taylor said. “Starting at a young age would allow them to find exactly what they’re interested in, in a certain field.”
The nine FPC students, who will all be seniors this August, are Taylor, Jack Gilvary, Nicholas Groth, Chloe Long, Ryan Tram, Dylan Duchak, Greyson Peugh, Brendan Wang and Glynnis Gong.
They presented experiments to three grade levels of students at Bunnell Elementary during the final two weeks of school. The experiments that went along with brief lessons in science and engineering served as an introduction to the clubs they plan to start in the upcoming school year for third, fourth and fifth graders.
They’re starting the program at BES and then plan to branch out to other elementary schools, getting FPC juniors and sophomores involved so the clubs can continue long after they graduate.
We wanted to be able to foster an interest in STEM at a young age and keep them interested in it as they move through school” — ABIGAIL TAYLOR, FPC student
Their advisor, Jodi Mulvihill, an IB chemistry teacher at FPC, said the students came up with the project and have handled all the steps from talking to BES science and math coach Tom Westly to conferring with BES teachers, sending home parent consent forms, planning the experiments and lessons and getting a grant from the Flagler County Education Foundation for their supplies.
“STEM has definitely fallen off some in our schools, and we want to make sure that it stays strong,” Gilvary said. “Obviously, technology is growing at an exponential rate in our society. So, we want to make sure that they’re familiar with it and also have a love for it as they go on in life.”
Their first presentation on May 18 to Bunnell’s fourth graders was an engineering lesson on mass, weight and gravity. The students grouped up in teams of four to six to build towers using raw spaghetti and marshmallows. The teams with the tallest towers won prizes.
“We went around and gave them tips,” Gilvary said. “Triangles are the strongest shape to build with, so once we gave them tips on that, they kind of went with the triangle idea.” In the first session, the tallest tower was 18 inches. In the second session, it was 19½ inches.
On May 23, they had third graders work with Oobleck for a lesson on states of matter. Oobleck, which is equal parts cornstarch and water, is a non-Newtonian fluid that forms a solid ball when squeezed in your hand and then becomes a liquid again, slipping through your fingers, when the pressure is released.
“A non-Newtonian fluid such as Oobleck, it’s just crazy how it works,” Taylor said.
The next day, the high school students returned and taught a lesson on the water cycle to second graders, using jars of water topped with shaving cream to act as clouds. The youngsters created precipitation by piping blue food coloring into the “clouds” and watching the blue droplets fall to the bottom of the jar.
“Some of the second graders were so excited,” Long said. “They understood, and they were speaking very intelligently about it. One girl (in third grade), knew about non-Newtonian fluids.”
“When people do demonstrations, you learn a lot better,” Groth said. “We’re also enriching what they’re learning in school.”
Westly said BES had a STEM club in the past, but it never re-formed after the COVID-19 lockdown.
“The kids like doing these sort of clubs, and we’ve been talking about getting mentors over from the high school for a while,” he said. “This is going to be a little more hands-on, something for the kids to enjoy and get more interested in STEM.”
The FPC students’ enthusiasm for the project is obvious. Most of them went to STEM camp as youngsters, which set them on their future career paths.
Taylor plans to major in mechanical engineering, with her sights set on the aerospace industry.
“In sixth grade we hosted a career fair and I met an aerospace engineer, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I want to do this,’” she said. “If we go to Mars, I want to help build the rocket, or if we manage to get out of our solar system, I want to be one of those people that helps in that process.”