STEM by the box inspires young scientists

Free kits create new learning opportunities
Updated: May. 19, 2021 at 6:59 AM EDT
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Free boxes full of STEM experiments are boosting learning for some students, thanks to generous donors. Students are saying “wow” while teachers are getting a break from their usual prep work for science experiments. This is possible because of Oak Ridge National Laboratory and its science partners.

The Director of ORNL, Thomas Zacharia, PhD, personally visited Midway Elementary School south of Kingston on Friday to introduce the President & CEO, Frederic Bertley, PhD, of the Center for Science and Industry which is creating the COSI kits called Learning Lunchboxes. Scientists Zacharia and Bertley performed a science demonstration together for the elementary students. Then they toured classrooms to see how the students are doing with their teachers at utilizing their boxes full of experiments. The theme is energy, so experiments include creating a wind-powered vehicle and building a solar oven. The boxes include five different activities for students to try.

Student reactions to science projects included 4th grader Bristol, “Do anything you want and just make all these cool experiments!”

“I just think it’s super cool!” said 5th grader Tray.

“I liked doing the wind energy car,” said Kayla.

4th grader Thomas described making a helicopter, “Twisted it up, let the top go then let the bottom go and it started flying.”

ORNL plans on distribution of the STEM boxes to students not only at Midway Elementary, but also to Midway Middle School, Elk Valley STEM School and Oliver Springs High School. “There’s not a kid alive on the planet who gets a gift in a box and is not excited!” said Bertley. “The kids own it, they love it, they’re excited!”

Why start so young with science projects? Zacharia said, “Having that creative spark in their mind when they’re in elementary school so they can pursue a career in science, technology and math is what this is all about.” Zacharia said ORNL needs more and more qualified applicants with science backgrounds, and the lab is always looking for a base of talent in this region.

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