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STEAM Fair Fosters Community While Making Learning Fun

STEAM Fair Fosters Community While Making Learning Fun

By Sarah E. Murphy 

 Crowd watching paper hot air balloonAcademics, creativity, and community were all on full display at the 45th Falmouth Public Schools STEAM Fair at Falmouth High School on Saturday, March 11. Celebrating science, technology, engineering, art, and math, the event was open to all students in K-12 throughout the district. 

STEAM Fair coordinator Stacey Strong, who serves as an elementary math instructional coach for Falmouth Public Schools, emphasized the collaborative nature of both the planning and the participation, for the event also garnered interest and support from professionals in the field. 

“We had great support and enthusiasm, from students, teachers, and administration, from all schools in the district,” she said. 

Ms. Strong credited her colleagues, Science Department Head for Grade 7-12, Christine Brothers, and Learning Partner Specialist Carmela Mayeski, who oversaw much of the community outreach.

“It was truly a team effort. This is not an event that can be organized by one person,” she said.

Scientists from the world-renowned science community in Woods Hole volunteered their expertise, and in some cases, their laboratories, acting as advisors and mentors to students throughout the process, from hypothesis to fruition. Local scientists also served as judges for entries from Lawrence School, which had the highest number of submissions to the fair. Falmouth High School National Honor Society students also offered their input by serving as peer judges. 

Despite the downpour outside on the day of the STEAM fair, the Robert V. Antonucci Field House was packed inside with approximately 200 student participants, in addition to an array of exhibitors from science institutions, environmental organizations, and educational nonprofits. 

Students in K-6 were not judged, but they had the opportunity to showcase their projects to friends, family, and the public in a formal setting, with their older Clipper counterparts. And although the emphasis was on education, the event also provided opportunities for fun through hands-on learning. 

“We worked hard to present a true fair or fest experience for the younger students, so there were many activities and exhibits that were family-friendly,” Ms. Strong said. 

To that end, the Marine Biological Laboratory brought two live axolotls, a type of endangered salamander, which happens to be the STEAM fair mascot. Students also had the opportunity to view petri dishes of the amphibian in various stages. Representatives from the Woods Hole Sea Grant offered another perspective, showcasing a 50-foot inflatable right whale and a dolphin skeleton, providing a tangible experience of an encounter with much larger marine life. The Falmouth High School Art Department, under the direction of Corine Adams and Jane Baker, contributed to the festivities by building a harmonophone in the form of a rotating table equipped with suspended pens. 

“The art students really embraced the STEAM concept by bringing engineering into their project,” Ms. Strong said. 

A common theme in presentations was the inspiration students took from their lives, either personal interests or physical surroundings. 

Through her after-school job at Ghelfi’s Candies, Falmouth High School senior Elizabeth Litton has experienced firsthand the correlation between diseased chocolate plants and the increase in chocolate prices, prompting her to investigate the cause. She used a gene-analyzing software to find similarities between chocolate and other pest-resistant plants, such as lavender and thyme, in an effort to identify what gene the chocolate lacked, resulting in its vulnerability, while also proposing a genetically-engineered gene. 

Elizabeth earned a first-place award, and was awarded $500 from Woods Hole Sea Grant and $1,000 from the Marine Biological Laboratory Dr. Arnold Clark Scholarship. 

Although she worked primarily on her own, Elizabeth credited her former AP Biology teacher, Heather Goodwin, for her guidance. The end result was rewarding, as a scientist and a consumer.

“I really enjoyed finally getting to understand a question I had for so long and being able to propose a solution,” she said. 

Freshman Ethan Parmentier has been interested in science since he was a child, and currently volunteers at the National Marine Life Center in Bourne. When he was seven, he protested a proposal that would ultimately limit parking at the Center. 

“Only one person ended up voting for the bill,” he said proudly. 

Ethan compared native and invasive species of algae to determine which possess more inactive vertebrates to gauge if they are beneficial or harmful to the environment, and Kelly McKeon from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution offered her expertise throughout the process.

“Invertebrates are extremely important to marine ecosystems, so the higher the concentration in invertebrates could definitely point to something,” he said. 

Ethan was one of three third-place winners for his project. He also earned the Aecern Innovation Award, valued at $100, given to an outstanding freshman high school project. 

Alexander Anderson also credited Ms. McKeon for her input, in particular helping him find a way to create a project based around a model trebuchet that was in his basement. 

“I have a passion for computer programming, so I wanted to see how I could incorporate that into my science project. In my free time, I’m always making little games with some kind of historical aspect, which is what drew me to trebuchets and their significance in medieval times,” he said. 

Alexander earned second-place recognition for his digital simulation project, “Simulation vs. Reality,” and was awarded $250 from the Associates of Cape Cod. 

According to Eleanor Rosenthal, a sophomore at FHS, her concerns about global warming influenced her topic, “The Potential of Cape Cod Seaweeds to Become Protein Replacements.”  

“I wanted to use my project to help the world in some small way, whether that’s bringing awareness to something or finding a solution,” she said. 

Eleanor harvested seven types of seaweed and synthesized them in the laboratory of MBL Scientist Loretta Roberson (who also happens to be her mother) to ascertain their protein content. She credited MBL lab partner Mayra Sanchez for her input. 

One of the most rewarding aspects for Eleanor was the scientific process of discovery through contradiction.

“Originally, I thought color would play a role in the amount of protein found in seaweed, but it’s due to many factors. I liked that my result was different from my hypothesis, because it extends the project by leading to other experiments,” she said.

A first-place winner, Eleanor was awarded $500 from Falmouth Water Stewards and $3,000 toward her future college/university through the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s Dr. Mary Sears Scholarship. 

Stacey Strong underscored the invaluable contributions of the individual scientists and community partners, not only for the event, but the entire scientific process, from genesis to completion.

“Falmouth is a town known for science, but it’s not always accessible to everybody, so by showcasing it in the schools and inviting exhibitors, we’re really opening up connections and bridges to the families. The STEAM Fair is a chance for people to see what science in Falmouth Public Schools is like,” she said. 

“I was most thrilled by the connections I saw being made - between teachers, community members, and students. That’s really what it’s about.”

Sarah E. Murphy