The kids bounced on the balls of their feet with eager expressions as teens from Oak Harbor High School showed off the robot they created this winter.
Members of the Whidbey Island Wildcats Robotics Club donated their time and talents to help inspire elementary kids toward the pursuit of STEM subjects Friday at Hillcrest Elementary’s STEM Family Night.
Tristen Klein, a junior, and Marcus Carman, a sophomore, demonstrated their team’s robot, which took 14th in the Washington/Idaho/Alaska district robotics competition.
But the night wasn’t about the teenagers, a fact that Klein knew well. He said he wanted the elementary kids to understand what robotics can mean for society.
“Essentially, robotics is a tool to help us improve people and just help us improve the world,” Klein said.
Sharon DeWitt, the technology coach at Hillcrest Elementary, said STEM Family Night was designed to highlight the fields of study that STEM stands for: science, technology, engineering and math.
“It’s a celebration of the growth from a straight-science area to where progress has brought us with technology, engineering and math.”
DeWitt said that, as time progresses, there will be an increasing need for people in STEM-related careers, especially in technology and engineering.
“STEM is where the jobs are for these kids in the future,” she said.
To highlight the need, Hillcrest showed a few informational videos designed to communicate to parents the opportunities their children might have in STEM-related careers.
But on the whole, STEM Family Night was targeted toward the needs and sensibilities of the kids. The event, which was essentially a family fun night, offered 17 different stations designed to get kids experiencing aspects of STEM through engaging activities.
Whether the students played a rocket-launching game with NASA astronaut Heide Stefanyshyn-Piper or engaged with a hands-on stormwater-runoff activity with Oak Harbor Civil Engineer Brad Gluth, they were experiencing STEM through the games they played.
“We were going to have a family movie night but decided that this way is more educational,” said Tonya Mays, the principal’s secretary at Hillcrest. “It’s just better for the kids to come in and actually get to learn while they’re playing.”
Mays helped staff the door at the event, distributing tickets for door prizes, passing out activity lists and directing folks to one of three spaghetti dinners hosted by the school.
At one point, when the entry line went out the door and around the corner, Principal Paula Seaman jumped in and helped move people through the bottleneck.
While the night offered a chance for families to get out together in an educational setting for food and fun, DeWitt provided another way to look at the evening.
In a sense, STEM Family Night represents a move away from a traditional trifold science fair for Hillcrest, which implemented the event after the success of a similar night at Broadview Elementary, she said.
Ultimately, DeWitt said, STEM Family Night was about moving Hillcrest students from thinking like consumers toward thinking like creators, producers and innovators.
“These are kids that are playing video games, but we want to get them coding and making video games,” DeWitt said. “These are kids that are playing with robots, but we want to get them to understand the technology behind robots.