By Ray Huard
From building insect habitats to testing herbal oils to see how well they battled bacteria, more than 400 students showed off their ingenuity and know-how at a recent Vista Unified School District expo.
“Every year, I am amazed at what our students bring to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Fest,” said Kellie Fleming, a content support resource teacher and coordinator of the annual exposition held this year at Vista Innovation & Design Academy – a Vista Unified magnet school.
“They transform into these experts who talk about their work with knowledge and understanding of what they were able to do and achieve,” Fleming said. “To me, this is probably the most important and rewarding piece about STEM Fest – having our students proudly share their work, interacting with all age groups, on a night that’s all about them.”
Connor Baker and Gavin Humann, second graders at Casita Center for Technology, Science & Math, became experts on insect housing for STEM Fest. They demonstrated how they used cardboard toilet tissue tubes and twigs to create what they called “insect motels” to give moths and other insects safe haven.
“You stuff twigs in here so they can hide from the predators,” Connor said as he jammed twigs into the cardboard tube. “You need to stuff things together so the moths don’t get eaten by chameleons, anything that eats bugs.”
Killing bugs of another kind was the point of an experiment displayed by Jacob Toney, a senior at Rancho Buena Vista High School who hopes to become a chemical engineer doing ground-breaking research.
With bacteria becoming increasingly resistant to drugs, Jacob said he wanted to determine if there were alternatives that would be effective.
According to the results of his experiment, there are. Jacob tested penicillin and several herbal oils to see how well they battled e-coli bacteria. “Cinnamon oil and tea tree oil are at least as effective as penicillin,” Jacob said.
Empresa Elementary Fifth-grader Christian Campoamor's Tiki hut mosquito catcher
Bugs also figured in a STEM Fest display by Christian Campoamor, a fifth grader at Empresa Elementary School, who built a solar power Tiki hut mosquito catcher.
Christian said the bug catcher worked as predicted when he tried it out in his backyard. “We caught two mosquitos,” Christian said. “There’s not that many mosquitos in the yard, mostly gnats,” Christian said.
Rancho Minerva Middle School's marble roller coaster projects.
Nearby, Rancho Minerva eighth graders showed off the work they did to explore kinetic and potential energy and Newton’s laws of motion.
Teacher Desiree Willson gave her students a challenge – build roller coasters out of construction paper that would keep a marble rolling along its course for 15 seconds. “It was a pretty tough challenge, but they did a pretty good job,” Willson said.
Most of the roller coasters on display at STEM kept marbles rolling for five to eight seconds, but the project was a valuable lesson for her students.
“They spent about a month designing, testing and improving,” Willson said. “They learned the importance of testing and improving, testing again and improving.”
Olive Elementary fifth-grader Sheila Sainz faced a different challenge – pick a stressful situation and devise a way to ease the stress.
Her challenge – picking the right clothes for a night out. Sheila’s solution, as illustrated in a drawing she displayed, was to have a robot that would pick out just the right outfits, although she didn’t actually build a robot. That’s a challenge for another day. “It helps people, because they don’t know what to wear,” Sheila said.
STEM Fest attendees generate energy on the Schneider Electric "Green Bike."
For the more athletically inclined, Schneider Electric provided a stationary bicycle hooked up to a light that shined brighter and brighter, the harder students pedaled.
The idea was to show kids a fun side to engineering, and maybe spark their interest in the field, said Valerie Houchin, a Schneider account representative.
By riding the bike, “They understand, they’re helping generate electricity,” Houchin said. “I want them to know, you can do your part to save energy and create energy.” The company has donated the bike to the school district. “It’s going to travel from school to school,” Houchin said.
In choosing VIDA as the site, STEM Fest was returning to its roots. The district’s first STEM Fest in 2014 was at VIDA, which was then Washington Middle School, but has since been transformed into VIDA.
STEM Fest is open to all Visa Unified students.
“We don’t have any specific requirements to exhibit, other than they must be safe and do no harm to anyone,” Fleming said. “Students are welcome to work on anything that incorporates STEM, including the arts.