Vol. 5, No. 5
May 2013

STEM festival comes to Cedar Rapids

A statewide celebration of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) for children and their families comes to Cedar Rapids on Sunday, June 9 from 1 to 5 p.m. at McKinley Middle School.

iExploreSTEM is a series of free festivals of hands-on educational activities co-produced by the University of Iowa Department of Health and Human Physiology and the State Hygienic Laboratory. iExploreSTEM is hosting or supporting festivals at 13 locations across the state.

An iExploreSTEM volunteer teaches children how to use a pipette at the festival co-produced by the State Hygienic Laboratory and the Iowa Mathematics and Science Education Partnership on Sept. 18, 2011. Since then, 13 similar festivals have been held in Iowa to promote youth involvement in science, technology, engineering and math.

The events are designed to engage students from kindergarten through eighth grade in educational games and experiments to encourage them to consider STEM as a field of study and eventually as a career choice. Students who attended previous iExploreSTEM events built and propelled stomp rockets, drove robots, dissected a virtual cadaver, and designed and then built windmills.

"By designing, building and experimenting, children and their parents gain a greater appreciation of the STEM process,” said Gina Schatteman, Ph.D., director of iExploreSTEM and emeritus associate professor of Integrative Physiology at the University of Iowa.

The idea for the festivals came from the first USA Science and Engineering Festival held in 2010 on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Schatteman participated in the national event and spearheaded the efforts to bring iExploreSTEM to Iowa.

In 2011, Schatteman and Beth Hochstedler, director of education and outreach at the State Hygienic Laboratory, led efforts to create Iowa’s first iExploreSTEM festival that was co-produced by the Hygienic Laboratory and the Iowa Mathematics and Science Education Partnership. It was held on the grounds of the Laboratory’s Coralville facility with an estimated attendance of nearly 2,000 children and family members.

"STEM education in the U.S. is falling behind the rest of the world,” Schatteman said. "Even our best-performing students stack up poorly in science and math relative to the best students in the developed world and parts of the developing world.”

Schatteman encourages people to stress the importance of STEM education with their local schools."Only with a workforce well trained in STEM will we keep and attract high paying jobs to the U.S.”

The scope of the statewide project expanded earlier this year when Schatteman and Hochstedler teamed with organizers of the UI's Living with Floods project. This statewide initiative was created to raise awareness of the effects of flooding, flood prevention strategies, and the progress made in flood mitigation in Iowa. Living with Floods is hosting forums and celebrations in many of the same locations as the iExploreSTEM festivals.