Parents Explore Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) ConceptsBy Diana Wehrell-Grabowski on February 27, 2012 in Family Science Workshops by Dr. Diana Wehrell-Grabowski, Hands-On Science Explorations by Dr. Diana Wehrell-Grabowski, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Education, Teacher Training Workshops
Parents of middle-school girls attending the Expanding Your Horizons Conference held at University of North Florida were introduced to the philosophy of STEM education and STEM investigations including: super-absorbing polymers and the engineering design process during a workshop for parents conducted by Dr. Diana Wehrell-Grabowski. Parents designed and conducted experiments with super-absorbing growing spheres and cubes. They tested how high spheres bounced, observed the rate of speed at which they rolled down ramps of varying heights, they measured the mass of the super-absorbing spheres with digital balances, and used digital calipers to measure dimensions. During the second part of the workshop parents were introduced to the Marshmallow Challenge. The objective of the Marshmallow Challenge is to build the tallest free standing structure within 18 minutes with a limited amount of materials (20 spaghetti sticks, 1 yard of string, 1 yard of masking tape, scissors, and one marshmallow). Parents working in groups of four were eager to tackle the challenge. It was interesting to see how each group went about discussing, designing, constructing, and testing the structure. The winning group’s structure was 27 inches tall. Parents were asked to discuss with their group members what they had learned during both investigations. A key component of the parent workshop was to allow the parents to observe and practice STEM-related skills such as employing critical thinking skills, communicating effectively, and collaboration. At the conclusion of the workshop parents were given a sample of super-absorbing polymers growing spheres to have their daughter design and conduct experiments at home with the super-absorbing polymers.