Powhatan County Public Schools' STEM Expo packs the house

Powhatan County Public Schools hosted its annual STEM Expo on Feb. 26. at Powhatan High School. The free event offered families a chance to explore all of the STEM opportunities and technologies PCPS offers through hands-on activities and demonstrations.

POWHATAN – More than 200 local elementary students recently got a glimpse into the future when they attended Powhatan County Public Schools’ annual STEM Expo.

At least 217 children and their families checked in at the night of learning and fun that was held on Wednesday, Feb. 26 at Powhatan High School, said Libbey Kitten, K-12 science STEM specialist. The free event showcased many of the STEM activities students engage in at the high school and allowed younger students to explore the various options through hands-on activities.

“We want to get children excited about STEM from the time they are in elementary all the way up, so we just want to generate enthusiasm and have a fun night of learning,” she said.

Teachers, staff, 88 high school students, and 25 elementary school students participated in the event, which had a myriad of stations touching on the wide world of STEM subjects.

In the Commons area, children could combine math and athleticism to do a Tic Tac Throw; watch a robot stack oversized Legos; code the movements of a toy mouse; create a binary code bracelet, and much more.

In other parts of the building, children watched a 3-D printer in action; tested virtual reality goggles; experimented with filming in front of a green screen; developed their special reasoning skills with origami; built working LED flashlights, and completed chemistry experiments.

“I am grateful because when I look at the activities that all of these teachers who have taught all day long picked, they are fascinating and fun. They really brought their A game,” Kitten said. “Then when I look at the kids, they are having a great time, they are very engaged. We had some who came last year and they said, ‘Oh, I remember that and can we go there?’ That is what we want. We want them to look forward to it every year.”

Heather Smith of Powhatan said she attended the event because her son Carter’s Cub Scout troop made it the site of their meeting. Carter, 9, was fascinated with the robots, and his little sister, Charlotte, 6, loved visiting the career and technical education (CTE) wing and seeing animals such as a guinea pig, a hamster, and a ferret.

“I think this is great. The more they learn the more they can try to determine what they want to do with their lives. And they have given them everything from shop and animals all the way up to the highest technology,” Smith said.

Jaime Quinn of Powhatan attended the event with her children Keegan, 11, and Sabrina, 7, and her husband, Drew. Keegan already loves math and science, and it was fun to have the children experience some of the opportunities they will have when they reach high school, she added. She found that Keegan gravitated toward some of the stations involving rocks, which he loves, and Sabrina was thrilled to see the animals.

“I think it probably reinforced some of the interests we already knew they had, especially with my son and science. And we don’t have a pet of our own, but my daughter is always asking about getting a pet, and she is really interested in animals and taking care of things,” Smith said.

She added that the best part about coming for her was seeing the high school students interacting with the children and how well they answered questions and shared their subjects.

“It is nice to see that interaction between the older kids and the younger kids. They really seemed to enjoy it,” she said.

One of the big goals with the high school’s STEM clubs is to have students volunteer to run camps and do outreach at the lower schools, Kitten said. They can give first-hand accounts about their favorite subjects and activities to encourage the younger students’ interest in them.

“We are trying to get kids excited about the pathway where they see themselves in a few years,” she said.

Alex Sarver, a PHS senior, helped at several stations, from demonstrating the Lego Mindstorm robots to helping physics and engineering teacher Bob Benway run physics experiments. On one side of the physics room, children could learn about static electricity using a Van De Graaff machine.

On the other side, Sarver helped Benway demonstrate Newton’s first law of motion – an object at rest tends to stay at rest and an object in motion tends to stay in motion. The student laid down on a bed of nails and held a brick on his chest while Benway hit it with a sledgehammer. The brick resists the change and the effort of the sledgehammer to make it move.

“The person underneath it really doesn’t feel it at all. In this case the brick would rather break than be forced down into Alex’s stomach,” Benway said.

While working at the different stations, Sarver said he saw a great deal of interest from the children in what they are doing at the school.

“We see a lot of their interest. A lot of their eyes sort of pop open when we start talking about what we do and how it is all run,” Sarver said. “They seem really interested, like they want to do it. So we have been trying to tell them what they can do in middle school to start to get a little bit of a taste so when they get to high school they understand what is going on here.”

Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.

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