Students explore invention, design at STEM Expo

Fourth grade Santa Clarita Christian School student Brynn Owen shows off part of her "Helpful Hand" project at the school's first STEM Expo Friday. Christina Cox/The Signal

Brynn Owen, a fourth grade student at Santa Clarita Christian School (SCSS), knew she wanted to invent a device that would help her mother, who was born without one of her hands, quickly complete daily activities.

“My invention is called the Helpful Hand,” Owen said.  “I got the idea because my mom was having difficulty holding her tablet, cutting vegetables and drying her hair.”

The budding inventor used a mic stand, magnets and common items to create a helpful tool her mom, and everyone else, can use.

“It’s for anyone to use,” Owen said.  “I really like inventing things.”

Owen’s invention was one of 75 STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) experiments on display at SCCS first STEM Expo Friday.

Santa Clarita Christian School student Joshua Matzek shares his Deadbolt Lock Project with judges at the school’s first STEM Expo Friday. Christina Cox/The Signal

A total of 75 students in third grade to seventh grade participated in the event by creating projects within one of five categories: inventions, reverse engineering, robotics and computer science, scientific inquiry and Rube Goldberg.

“They got to choose a category and then create projects within those categories,” said Lynn Kistler, director of curriculum and instruction at SCCS.

Kistler and Jennifer Trosper, a Mars 2020 mission manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and parent at the school, came up with the idea for the Expo earlier this year.

“I think it’s important for the younger students to understands principals of design and understand how things work,” Trosper said.  “The best way to do that is to have them build things and experiment.”

Students from SCCS began working on their projects in early January.  They met with Trosper and a team of parents to share their idea, work through their projects and update the team during the end of January and the end of February.

“At the first check in they explained what their project was,” Trosper said.  “Each student would tell us their idea and then we would work with them through it… That’s how the real world works, you have your initial idea and then you have people help you through it.”

According to Trosper, as soon as students got to their second milestone in February, they were excited to finish their projects and present their idea to the STEM Expo’s judges.

Michael Gladden, a fourth grade student at Santa Clarita Christian School, shares information about his Roller Coast Drop of Doom project during the school’s first STEM Expo Friday. Christina Cox/The Signal

Judges for the Expo were “STEM experts” who worked as STEM engineers and mathematicians or at JPL.  As they moved from table to table they asked students questions about their designs and discoveries.

Sixth grade student Briley Phelps detailed the trial-and-error process and design process in creating her “Anti-Teen Texting Machine,” a combination of robotics, wiring, magnets and engineering to prevent teens from grabbing their phone while completing homework.

“I don’t like to consider it a failure pile,” Phelps said as she help up a bin of faulty wires, broken rubber bands and malfunctioning resisters.  “I like to think of it as experiments that just didn’t work.”

The process was exciting for Phelps who said she wants to be an engineer when she grows up.

The STEM Expo also included presentations from the STEM Experts, a Mars Rover Demonstration and a STEM Family Night for all involved.

“Project-based learning is a way to bring textbook learning to real-world learning,” Trosper said.  “The main goal is to get them excited about STEM and realize how accessible it is.”

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