Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Hey! Where's the CHEM STEM?

photo credit: chrisfreeland2002 via photopin cc
A colleague on my personal learning network asked a fabulous question---How do we promote chemistry and chemical engineering in an age of STEM?   The question is well worth the time to consider.

As I look at the Iowa STEM initiatives, I see plenty of evidence of fun as well as learning.  Really.  It's a great thing to play with robots, build lego challenges, and design windmills.  As a physics teacher myself, I get excited by the energy efficiency technology that Pat Higby and the IEEE at UNI offer and ship to schools.

But...but....but.   When it comes to chemistry, we are failing.  Besides university-based summer or science camps like Camp Invention, where do we look? Besides Fizz-Bubble-Goo, an ISU Extension program for K-3, there aren't a lot of resources in the summer.  And that's only one season. Teachers need safe, reliable, easy chemistry programs available for kids to develop interest and passion for chemistry ALL year long.  That's a tall order.

Most of the resources that ARE out there are videos or demo-based, focused on the generosity of local colleges and universities.  Googling the term "chemistry engineering outreach" lists some great outreach, if you are in the right place:   (Seattle-based) (Chicago-based) (Virginia-tech)   (Utah)

On a more local level, you can check out Iowa State's Material Advantage Club, or the Univ. of Iowa Outreach, but again, these options are local, rather than state-wide, and are more demonstration-based than interactive. That is a problem.

So, for my New Year's Resolution, let me challenge you to DO with your students.

DO chemistry.  Start with WATER, if you are uncomfortable about chemistry safety.  In particular, check out the water detective activities at the link.

COOK with kids.  It's one of the easiest ways to talk about reactions.

SHARE an activity with 4H extension that is chem-based but accessible to kids (the list on the website keeps saying,  "coming soon".

ASK your AEA to help organize a Maker Camp that includes chemistry.

INVITE Pella or 3M engineers into your classroom for a chemistry event.

EXPLORE nanoscales or ChemShorts.

RESIST efforts to cut science time from your class time.  Write about science, read about science current events, talk about science and history, count and measure for science experiments.   It IS a challenge with so much testing, and we know it, but our kids need this K-12.

Take Chem STEM to your 4H meetings, your scouting events, your planning for summer camps and after school groups.

SUBSCRIBE to the eGFI Newsletter and Blog to keep up-to-date on new opportunities.

DEVELOP a Maker-Faire with the regional STEM hub in your area, or within your community.  Let's involve Extension, and teachers, and kids, and communities.

I want my kids to love learning about chemistry.  I want them to model, and I want them to reflect.  Hobby Lobby sells ten dollar kids to make plastics and plaster of paris molds.   Why can't we do this for all kids?  I want students to have fun in a safe way that teaches them about the real world.   Why can't we do that?  Why aren't we?

photo credit: Old Shoe Woman  via photopin  cc  

1 comment:

  1. Marcia, thank you so much for your thoughtful response to this question. I love that really, we can just start with water - and there's so much we can do with water alone. Your statements about safety speak volumes, I think. Mechanical engineers, physicists can hand kids all kinds of building materials with little concern about safety. Not so in Chemistry. Chemical engineering is, well, hard. I'm taking your post as a challenge to find ways to do more.