Brainy kids take science and engineering ­
seriously at MDUSD STEM Showcase

Students displayed their ingenuity with hands-on science and engineering stations, robotic challenges and a monster robot demonstration at the second annual Mt. Diablo Unified School District’s STEM Showcase.

Hundreds of families, along with school board members, district administrators and Superintendent Nellie Meyer attended the March 11 event at Willow Creek Center.

STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math, and the showcase is the modern-day equivalent of the science fairs that used to be held at elementary schools.

Rather than a competition, however, the selections on display were chosen on a loose set of criteria that asked students to explain why they selected the topic or problem. The students do not move onto any further competition.

“The main shift to the showcase from our previous science fair is that we are aligning to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which requires students to think, collaborate and dive deeply into their topics,” said Jan Robertson, a science instructional coach with the district.

The showcase divided the projects into Science Inquiry and Engineering Design. For example, Woodside Elementary student Viran Edussuriya-Essl investigated sourdough batteries for his science experiment, and Braelynn Rigel from Sun Terrace Elementary worked on engineering an air conditioner. Classes could also enter group projects, such as building bridges or a mechanical digging arm.

“We have seen a great improvement in the projects over the past few years as teachers are exposing students to the science and engineering practices from the Engineering is Elementary (EIE) program,” Robertson said.

EIE is an offshoot of the Museum of Science in Boston, which teaches the Design Cycle as a tool to solve problems.

High school students from College Park and Mt. Diablo set up the hands-on science and engineering stations, while robotic teams from Valley View Middle, Foothill Middle and College Park High coordinated the robotic challenges and monster robot demonstration.

The event included activities from Project Lead the Way, a national organization that helps create engaging, hands-on classroom projects and empowers students to develop in-demand knowledge and skills. Heather Farms Gardens also presented a workshop on composting with worms.

Students from the Mt. Diablo High EDU-Catering program provided cookies and healthy snacks, while students from Mt. Diablo’s Digital Safari created logos for the event.

NGSS, the newly adopted K-12 science content standards, was developed to reflect major advances in science and technology since the last revisions nearly 30 years ago. One goal is to create a set of research-based, up-to-date standards that give local educators the flexibility to design classroom experiences that stimulate students’ interest in science and prepare them for college, careers and citizenship.

Meyer called the STEM fair a resounding success and an example of high student and parent engagement. “When students are engaged in activities like these, they produce amazing results,” she said.
One of the robotics volunteers summed up the showcase: “The kids made my heart sing. They are so amazing and curious.”