Fizzing, popping, whirring, gasps and laughter echoed through the halls at Emmett Middle School on a cool night in February. Boise State students and faculty, dressed in blue t-shirts and lab coats, along with Emmett middle schoolers and community partners, led activities and interactive experiments designed to engage elementary-aged kids in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Beakers bubbled over with simulated hot lava and toothpick towers rose precariously from lunchroom tables, held together carefully by marshmallow connectors. Former NASA astronaut and Boise State Distinguished Educator in Residence Steve Swanson kicked off the activities with a presentation and video about his time at the International Space Station, and fielded eager questions from the crowd.
“These events show young people that STEM careers can be interesting and fun,” Swanson said. “STEM is about finding creative, technical solutions to make our world a better place.”
STEM night in Emmett, a service project coordinated by current Noyce Scholar students along with faculty at Boise State, was held for the first time on Feb. 11. Emmett is a town of just under 7,000 residents located 30 miles northwest of Boise. The Noyce Scholarship program, funded by the National Science Foundation, supports STEM education majors in their last two years of college. Students awarded the scholarship receive $5,000 per semester for up to four semesters, and are required to teach one year for every $5,000 award they receive within eight years of graduating.
This year, Noyce scholars are required to fulfill eight hours of community service; the Boise State scholars thought a rural STEM night would be the perfect project.
Recent Boise State alumna Madisen Chinnock (BS mathematics, secondary education emphasis,‘19), a Noyce scholar from Emmett, currently teaches at Emmett Middle School. It was a natural choice for the current crop of Noyce scholars to reach out to Chinnock to coordinate a STEM night at the middle school and invite local elementary students and parents to participate.
“As a former Noyce scholar, I was able to see the program come full circle,” said Chinnock. “I grew up in Emmett and later did my student teaching here, and was hired by Emmett Middle School largely based on my participation in the Noyce program.”
Twenty-one eighth graders were selected from Emmett Middle School and were introduced to teaching, then trained by Boise State faculty to help facilitate the STEM night activities for elementary students.
“It was fun to see the elementary kids experiment with the activities and see what they took away,” said eighth grader Hailey Davis. “Working with the college students was cool and fun.”
“Being at a Title I school in a rural district, students do not get many opportunities like STEM night,” said Chinnock. “It was amazing to see the Noyce program also investing in my middle school students and Emmett’s elementary school students and families.”
Chinnock also is involved in the College of Education’s research study to increase teacher retention rates in Idaho.
“Outstanding teachers like Madisen bring new ways of thinking and learning to Idaho’s students,” said Jennifer Snow, interim dean of the College of Education. “We are very proud to work with Madisen to help prepare a new generation of STEM teachers for Idaho communities.”
More than 60 volunteers participated, including Boise State elementary education and IDoTeach students, the NASA Microgravity and SUITS teams, the Geosciences Outreach Program, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. Off-campus partners included The Idaho Museum of Mining and Geology, the Foothills Learning Center, and the 4-H Extension Youth Development program.
IDoTeach, an innovative secondary STEM teacher preparation program housed in the College of Education, currently enrolls 14 Noyce scholars. College students who graduate from the IDoTeach program aim to fill teaching positions in high-demand STEM disciplines, according to Jan Smith, a clinical assistant professor, IDoTeach master teacher and Boise State’s Noyce Scholar coordinator.
Smith said high demand for STEM teachers in rural areas along with mentoring Emmett 8th graders to promote interest in teaching made the Emmett event unique.
“Rural school districts often don’t have the resources to hold STEM nights like those held in schools with close proximity to universities,” said Smith. “By exposing elementary students to STEM activities, we hope to inspire young students to pursue STEM in their future education. Through mentoring middle school students, we hope to inspire them to become future teachers, to attend college, and teach in their communities.”
– By Carrie Quinney