Youngsters love messing around at STEM Bonanza

Thunderbot Foster Olson helps Merik Stewart, 9, and Hunter Danielson, 10, both of Mesa MacArthur Elementary School (from left), make oobleck at Saturday's STEM Bonanza.

By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau

Neat and tidy wasn’t the call of the day at the STEM Bonanza’s oobleck station in Grand Canyon University’s Engineering Building.

One of the activities was to make a bouncy ball out of oobleck, which is a non-Newtonian substance that acts like both a liquid and a solid.

One participant, with a dusting of cornstarch on his nose and purple liquid oozing down the front of his hoodie, exclaimed, “Uh, oh.” But, with a quick wipe down, he soldiered on.

Minutes later, success!

He did what he and his group of other STEMists set out to do: created a slime-like substance called oobleck.

A few minutes after that, success again.

Oobleck, oozy and liquidlike just 10 minutes before, now formed rubbery bouncy balls that the station of STEMists bounced atop their work station.

“That’s good,” said Ed Koeneman, electrical engineering technology instructor, upon hearing a report about the oobleck glee -- and the mess: “Science is messy," he said with a smile.

Making oobleck wasn’t the only activity for the 20 or so fourth- through eighth-graders at Saturday’s STEM Bonanza, organized by GCU’s Robotics Club in collaboration with the University’s K-12 Educational Development.

Participants also delved into making battery motors, unraveled codes using wheel cyphers, programmed LEGO Mindstorms robots to navigate a track on the floor, and played with mini robots called Cubelets.

A STEM Bonanza participant programs a Lego Mindstorms robot.

The call of the day was to break down the letters of STEM: science (making oobleck), technology (programming a robot), engineering (creating a battery motor) and math (deciphering a code). More than that, the Robotics Club wanted to fulfill one of its missions, which is to foster a love of STEM in the next generation.

It was the second such workshop helmed by the Thunderbots, following up on last year’s Girl-Powered STEM Workshop.

The event, which also doubled as a fundraiser for the club, kicked off with a get-to-know-each-other bingo activity.

“You’re going to have to go around and talk to everybody. You’re going to have to go around and ask people’s names,” said Robotics Club President Makayla Jewell, who minutes before met with her GCU team to pump everyone up for the day. “Ready, set, go!”

Once their robots were programmed, students placed them atop a yellow track to see if their program worked.

With that, participants wandered around the room, introducing themselves and asking fellow STEM Bonanza students, “Do you read a book every day?” and “Can you do five jumping jacks?” so that they could mark off that portion of their bingo card.

Then everyone broke out into one of four activity stations.

Phoenix Madison Meadows Middle School student Ella Lemster, 11, was busy rubbing down a magnet wire to make her simple electric motor.

Ella Lemster, 11, of Phoenix's Madison Meadows Middle School makes a battery-powered motor.

“Yesterday, we were having a sleepover and the person’s mom was talking about there being a really cool science convention at GCU,” said Lemster. “I said, 'OMG, I love GCU! I love science! I love STEM stuff!'”

So joining in the STEM Bonanza, at least for Lemster, was a no-brainer.

She said, “I want to know how stuff like this works. I want to know how material conducts all of this, and I’m looking forward to the oobleck.”

Mesa MacArthur Elementary School student Hunter Danielson, 10, was beguiled at the oobleck station.

“If you press it hard, it becomes like a brick,” he said of the liquid, a simple mixture of water, cornstarch and dye that’s an example of a non-Newtonian fluid. The substance might flow like a liquid, but once you apply pressure to it, it becomes hard like a solid.

Merik Stewart, who made his own modular robot using Cubelets, wants to one day be an inventor.

Merik Stewart, 9, preferred going freestyle at the Cubelets area. He spent a lot of time sticking together the magnetic robot cubes -- some with wheels, others tout a flashlight or Bluetooth hat -- to form his own modular robot.

“I want to, like, invent stuff,” said Stewart, also a student at MacArthur, who said he one day wants to have a career in science.

And that’s the hope of many in the Robotics Club -- that students will want to study science and math, and if not study it, at least have an appreciation for it.

GCU freshman accounting major Devon Lauffer, one of about a dozen Thunderbots volunteering to facilitate Saturday’s workshop, admits he isn’t the best at technology, but he gets a kick out of robotics and being part of a team.

“I was in my high school robotics club,” he said, and he wanted that sense of camaraderie with his university experience so he joined GCU’s Robotics Club.

He wanted to volunteer and “picked my favorite activity, which is oobleck.”

The Thunderbots, including Talon Birdsong, Michael Teberg and Antonio Rodriguez (in purple, from left) say it's part of their mission to support the next generation of STEMists.

Eyan Osborn, a GCU mechanical engineering technology junior, said he also was part of his high school’s robotics team and served as one of the Thunderbots’ robot drivers in this year’s VEX Robotics competitions.

He wanted to volunteer, he said, because the workshop “shows them (the next generation of STEMists) that math and physics isn’t always boring, and just to have fun with it.”

The STEM Bonanza was planned as a stress-free, fun day, Osborn said, adding, “maybe they’ll pursue it (science, technology, engineering or math) if they like it enough," mess or not.

Contact GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.

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Related content:

GCU Today: "Robotics Club gets in gear with debut of Thunderbot"

GCU Today: "Guinness World Record honor thrills Robotics Club"

GCU Today: "Thunderbots nail the nuts and bolts in 1st world finals"

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