Students practice engineering skills at STEM Billings event
Billings Gazette. Sam Wilson. November 03, 2018.

Standing 25 inches tall from the top of a classroom table, a leaning tower of dry spaghetti noodles, wads of marshmallow and pieces of tape had, at least temporarily, captured the record Saturday at Medicine Crow Middle School. Yet that wasn't good enough for Eliza Walker.

"We should keep trying to make it taller," the Boulder Elementary School fifth-grader declared, her eyes never leaving the fragile construct in front of her.

Walker and her partner in the class, Lockwood Elementary fourth-grader Keelee Logan, were among about 150 students who showed up to school on a Saturday to take part in a round of activities aimed at teaching STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills to students in second through eighth grades.

Saturday's activities focused on engineering. Subsequent events by STEM Billings during this school year will focus on medical education and computer science.

In the same classroom, Rocky Mountain College senior Ayla Grandpre was helping kids create the tiny turbines from construction paper and straw after delivering the opening speech about her work with NASA. The self-described "space enthusiast" has worked with the federal agency's Space Grant Consortium project, and hoped to get kids to begin thinking about how they could someday launch their own careers in space technology.

"Anybody can go into it, and there's so many things going on experimentally" in space, Grandpre said.

There were mixed results in the hovercraft class. Students were given a pencil, a CD, a chunk of plastic foam, a balloon, a straw, rubber bands and tape.

Some kids began taping the materials together to form inert sculptures, and one of them popped his balloon.

But third-grader Leila Clay, from Poly Drive Elementary School, put it together pretty quickly. Using the pencil to punch a hole in the styrofoam, she then taped the foam block to the CD, stuck the straw through the holes and secured the balloon onto the straw with a rubber band.

"The air that you put into the balloon, when it comes out, it pushes on the ground and makes it float," she explained as she nudged the hovercraft across the table.

The events are part of an initiative that's been going strong in School District 2 for several years, and is organized by teachers and volunteers from local businesses and the city's colleges.

Simmone Clay, a Senior High junior who is an executive board member for the school's STEM Society, was one of the volunteers helping guide the younger students though Saturday's activities.

"We're advocating for science in our classrooms and promoting it where we can. It's a super cool program," Clay said. "It's a great opportunity for the younger kids to get involved."

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