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Sparking an interest in science

By Will Grandbois
Sopris Sun Staff


While interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers declines nationwide, local schools and organizations are finding ways to take potentially stuffy topics and make them engaging and hands on.

Case in point, Family Science Night from 6 to 8 p.m. on Nov. 10 at Basalt Middle School. It’s a five year tradition made fresh by a new partnership with the Aspen Science Center. For $10 — register in advance at eventbrite.com — fourth through eighth graders and their families will have a chance to answer questions like “How do thing behave at very low pressures?,” “What are some of the relationships between electricity and magnetism?,” and “What makes good slime?.”

“We have brought in a lot more labs, a lot more hands on activities that are really engaging the kids,” said BMS teacher Allison Johnson. “It’s a low risk opportunity for them to create and design. There’s no tests or grades, it’s really about exploration. They get to try and play with it and see what works and what doesn’t, which is a huge part of science.”

Johnson provides a similar experience on a daily basis through the school’s makerspace. Inspired by Johnson’s experience with her own kid at the Denver Maker Fair, backed by grants and recently expanded as part of the remodel, it’s a place where students can come at lunch or after school to tinker with electronics or find a way to create something in what Johnson calls “the shop class of the 21st Century.”

“It’s packed with an incredible diversity of kids constantly trolling through the shelves looking for new materials,” she said. “I’m learning right alongside them, so they get to see that curiosity modeled for them.”

Teachers also take advantage of the resource for in-class projects from Rube-Goldberg machines to 3D printed history (check it out at tinyurl.com/basaltmiddleyoutube). Other area schools, including Carbondale Middle, have since implemented similar spaces, and the Carbondale Branch Library has a makerspace program on Wednesday afternoons.

Meanwhile, the Aspen Science Center has been working hard to “demystify science without diluting it,” according to Operations Manager Keith Berglund.

Despite the name, the center doesn’t have a space of it’s own, so staff “sort of guest star at summer camps and enrichment programs.” A preschool program is in the works to stoke interest in science before they have a chance to write it off as dull.

“[Little kids] are true scientists. They’re testing everything,” Berglund said. “[Older kids] perceive it as difficult, so they steer away from it.Once we remove that grade element and due date, the child will be able to follow their interest all the way to the end.”

The ACS is also in the process of organizing a “Quantum Ball” — a fundraising “nonevent” you can find out more about at aspensciencecenter.org/quantumball.

You can also help the cause by donating supplies to the makerspace (needs list at bms.rfsd.k12.co.us/students/

the-makerspace.html) or volunteering at Family Science Night (call 309-5485 or email ajohnson@rfschools.com).