STEM interest blossoms at Sheehan

Sheehan students Michael Mansour, Ryan Williams, Liam Williams, and Jon Bertone test the strength of a phone book for the school’s annual STEM Festival. Photos by Laura Drinan

By Laura Drinan
Hometown Weekly Reporter

Sheehan Elementary School students are curious children. They come to school each day with endless questions and ideas, which their teachers do their best to answer. There’s one night a year, though, where all of their curiosities converge into a celebration of science, technology, engineering, and math: the annual Sheehan STEM Festival on April 4.

“It has a long tradition here at Sheehan,” said Liz Campbell, a Sheehan parent who has organized the event for the last five years. “There are a 115 students participating in this year’s event. We just give them an idea and a theme, and they just take it from there. There’s always lots of great creativity.”

Children in grades two through five are invited to participate in the festival. With this year’s theme tasking the students to solve an everyday problem and build a prototype, the children worked individually, in pairs, and in small groups to plan and execute their experiments and inventions.

Some students presented a homemade lip balm and more efficient ways to wash one’s hands (20 seconds with hot water and hand soap proved to be the best). Mia Heppelmann’s experiment entitled “A Salty Situation” addressed the issue of the availability of fresh water in many parts of the world. After multiple attempts to capture the steam from boiled salt water in a cup, Mia’s experiment proved successful.

Parent volunteers greeted the children at their presentation boards and interviewed the students on their work. After hearing about the project, the volunteers also helped to distribute achievement awards, which signified the students’ successful participation in the festival.

“Over the last couple of years, we’ve sort of evolved the program to adopt more of an engineering approach to doing the experiments, so it’s not your typical science fair anymore,” Campbell said. “The kids get really creative about how they approach anything related to science, technology, engineering, and math. Some kids just come up with their own ideas, and it’s great, too.”

Molly Place and Justine Connelly invented the “Guster Buster,” which prevents an umbrella from flipping inside out in windy weather. The two even tested its strength by using a leaf blower to produce intense winds. With clips, rings, and paracord, the two created a successful invention fit for a rainy and windy April.

Students Michael Mansour, Ryan Williams, Liam Williams, and Jon Bertone teamed up to create “Phone Book Friction,” which tested the strength it takes to rip apart bound books. The boys’ experiment attracted many of their peers to the table, where they tried to tear a phone book in two.

“This is true learning,” said Sheehan Elementary Principal Kristen Evans. “The kids are into it, they’re being creative, and practicing inventing things. It’s just great.”

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