by: Karissa Minnkminn
KANNAPOLIS — Students of all ages in the Kannapolis City School System got to be moon explorers for a day this week.
The Kannapolis City School System held its Moment of Science activities on Tuesday as part of the N.C. Science Festival celebration of science during April.
“I think a STEM day is a fun way to show learning at its best,” said Melissa Godfrey, curriculum coordinator at Shady Brook Elementary School. “This is the first year they decided to use a common theme.”
Every grade level participated in activities related to going to the moon. They concentrated on the engineering portion of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education.
Middle school students designed and built lunar rovers that could safely carry lunar rocks – blocks of wood – across a work station.
Elementary school students studied what it would take to build a colony on the moon, comparing the physical characteristics of the Earth’s and moon’s environments to figure out what humans would need to survive.
Fourth-graders at Shady Brook showed a variety of reactions as they tasted samples of the kinds of food astronauts eat in space.
As he tried spoonfuls of rehydrated lasagna and chicken and noodles, Alan Bautista Pacheco smiled and nodded while a few other students groaned.
“I liked it a lot,” he said.
Other selections included dried apples, kiwi, mango and banana.
“It’s not very good,” said Joel Ramirez. “I don’t like the taste of it.”
When his teacher asked why astronauts’ food in space would be different than ours on Earth, Ramirez said we don’t have to dry out our food or blend everything together.
“There’s no gravity, so it would float away,” said Nathan Baucom, explaining why eating conventional food would be hard in space. “If they want to drink something from a cup, they would have to have it all blended.”
Across the hall, another classroom studied how they could get plants from Earth to grow on the moon.
Working in groups, they created terrariums with potting soil and plastic bags or cases. They used cups, straws and bottles to represent ways to get water and air to the plants. The students then had to explain how their inventions would work.
“This is the water tank, and this is the air tank. The plastic keeps the air inside,” said Tyler Becker. “Here’s the soil it would grow in, and this hole – the water comes in through here.”
Stephanie Crim and Eli Mauldin came up with another inventive design.
“This is called the motivator, and when you pour in water, water comes pouring down like a sprinkler onto the plant,” Eli said. Pointing to a straw, he added, “You blow air through here.”
Stephanie said she thought the project was fun, and it’s just the area of science she’s interested in.
“I like learning about plants,” she said.
High school students built an amusement park ride for moon visitors to enjoy. They adapted pre-set designs for roller coasters on earth to account for differences in gravity and atomospheric conditions between the earth and moon.
“It might be thrilling here, but on the moon, it would be moving too slow and not very thrilling at all,” said Scott Rodgers, who teaches an honors project-based science class at A.L. Brown High School.
The students built their rides using roller coaster model sets of K’Nex toys.
“Since there’s low gravity on the moon, that makes it slower,” said junior Emily Boone. “We have to have more twists and turns.”
Students quickly realized that without the speed that gravity provides on Earth the roller coaster cars could get stuck at upside-down loops.
“I really like this because I love roller coasters,” said senior Robert Dante Pinkston. “But it’s more (difficult) than what I thought. It has its complications.”
Students at A.L. Brown also built autonomous robots that could perform various functions on the moon. Jason Stegall, who teaches a principles of engineering class, explained that his students were already building and programming robots as part of their classwork. The project was adapted to fit with the Moment of Science theme.
Juniors Kaleb Fox, Chris Hardin and David Vasquez created a mobile dump truck unit that would follow a black piece of tape, stop when the tape ends, empty its tray and go back to the starting point.
“It’s really fun, and it’s complicated,” Fox said. “Once you finish up and you finally get it, there’s a deep satisfaction.” Sophomores Briana Landis and Kierra Simmons built a machine that worked like a factory assembly line.
“I really like it,” Simmons said. “I’ve never done anything like it in any of my classes.”
Landis said she wants to go into electrical engineering.
“I really like robots,” Landis said. “I want to build something new.”
Stegall said education in STEM fields is associated with higher employment. He said the science festival helps to promote that and spotlight how the schools are encouraging it.
“Anytime we can have overall community awareness on science, it helps,” he said. “This is a good way to make the community more aware of where this is coming together.”
For more information about upcoming Kannapolis events during the N.C. Science Festival, visit www.ncsciencefestival.org/event/stem-kannapolis/.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.