A real STEM winder

2013-02-23T05:05:00Z 2013-02-25T16:53:39Z A real STEM winderCECILE LeBLANC Sun Staff Reporter Arizona Daily Sun
February 23, 2013 5:05 am  • 

Sinagua Middle School seventh grader Caelan Hack held a two-inch- long Madagascar hissing cockroach. He had taken it from a plastic box holding several other cockroaches belonging to his teacher, Carrie Jenkins.

One of the cockroaches was paler than the others -- it had just molted, Caelan explained.

He also explained researchers were attaching computer chips to the backs of this species of cockroach and using them in search and rescue missions.

This was just one of 30 educational and interactive displays at Sinagua Middle School's second annual Exploration Through the Lens of STEM Night that took place Thursday.

Sinagua science teacher Jillian Worssam coordinated the event with other Sinagua science and math teachers. They invited local agencies, organizations and schools to share information and activities with students and the community.

"It's an amazingly interactive way to teach," Worssam said.

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.

Despite the snowy conditions, the turnout was good and Worssam was excited. Approximately 325 people attended, higher than last year.


Everywhere visitors looked, a lesson could be had. Caelan explained how the cockroaches were being tested for use as mini-biorobots in earthquake situations. The large, but still small, cockroaches can crawl into spaces to see what or who is there.

Upstairs, MIT-e students Makynzie Miller-Smith and Rachel Kortenray were encouraging people to make their own QR codes -- the ubiquitous square codes that can be scanned by smartphones.

"The more words you type the more appears in the box," Makynzie said.

Sixth-grader Sarah Norris stood by the underwater robot the Oceanography Club created. They will be taking it to San Diego during a field trip.

"We are hoping to see what is there, but not anything specific," Sarah said.

Northern Arizona University's Chemistry Club used liquid nitrogen to enthrall students. Ping pong balls started spinning after they were taken out of liquid nitrogen and placed on the table. One NAU student dunked graham crackers in the liquid nitrogen and then breathed out vapors. He shared the frozen crackers with students.

Coconino National Forest employees tested students on their knowledge of tree rings, bird feathers and skulls. Students needed to correctly identify how old the tree was, what bird the feathers came from and if the animal skull was an herbivore, omnivore or carnivore based on its teeth.

One student easily identified the skulls as he carefully looked at the teeth.

"This is an omnivore, it has teeth similar to ours," he said.


Worssam said she saw a young boy at the Guardian Medical station learning how to do CPR on the mannequins.

"This little kid, he could be a future surgeon," Worssam said.

Last fall, Flagstaff was proclaimed America's First STEM City.

"We have to support that," Worssam said. "We are moving forward leaps and bounds."

She also said these events promote lifelong learners and celebrate and highlight the science occurring in the Flagstaff community.

This event was not limited to schoolkids. In partnership with SciTech, 10,000 fliers for the event went out to the Flagstaff community.

"Whether you are 4 or 40 or 80 years old, you will be engaged in something (during the event)," Worssam said.

One young woman stopped at a table showing fingerprinting. Participants were challenged to solve a "crime" using fingerprints.

"This is exactly what I am interested in," the woman said.


For Worssam, this is what the event is about: introducing students to people engaged in science, math, engineering and technology careers. As an example, she talked about a student of hers who was interested in wildlife biology. During the evening, the student was able to speak with working wildlife biologists.

Worssam is thankful.

"It's the people who came to learn, who came to teach," she said. "That's what made the night successful."

Cecile LeBlanc can be reached at 556-2261 or

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