Professors participate in STEM Day at Pond Hill Elementary School

John Reap, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Quinnipiac, looks on as Pond Hill Elementary School students, Mykenzie Delillo, facing the camera, Hannah Tuxbury, left with back to the camera, and Lilly Lewis construct a tower made out of uncooked spaghetti and marshmallows as part of STEM Day.

June 5, 2014 - At Pond Hill Elementary School in Wallingford, Kristen Himmelberger's third-grade class was encouraged to think outside the box when it comes to technology, or in this case, think outside the brown paper bag. 

"What do you think technology is?" said John Reap, assistant professor of mechanical engineering in the School of Business and Engineering.

Excited hands shot in the air and responses came flooding in from the students ranging from "a phone" to "anything that generates electricity." 

Reap, Mary Phillips, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, and Christian Duncan, associate professor of computer science in the College of Arts and Sciences, represented Quinnipiac's Bristol-Myers Squibb Center for Science Teaching and Learning at Pond Hill's STEM Day on June 4. During the all-day event, students attended different sessions and workshops that centered on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).  

The professors split the students into groups of four and five and distributed brown paper bags filled with various items to each group.

"Tape?" said a confused student, after reaching in a bag and pulling out a roll of masking tape. Other objects included a permanent marker, a pad of sticky notes, a glue stick and a spoon.  

After discussing the makeup of each item and how they can be used in various ways, the students decided on a new definition for "technology" that Reap wrote on the board: "A thing that solves a problem and is made by people."

In addition to the "technology in a bag" exercise, the university professors challenged the students to construct towers made out of tape, string, uncooked spaghetti and marshmallows within a 20-minute time limit. After several tower collapses and a lot of snapped spaghetti strands, one group of students proudly smiled around its 17-inch tower. 

"The students can engage in the process of developing technology without being Steve Jobs, Henry Ford, or one of the great titans of industry," said Reap. "Technology can be as simple as a spoon."

The all-day event also included separate workshops for fourth- and fifth-graders that focused on water bottle rockets, rollercoasters, rocks and minerals, and a reptile exhibit.

"STEM Day is important partly because it gives the kids the opportunity to interact with education professionals from Quinnipiac," said Chris Stone, fifth-grade teacher and event organizer. "The students are developing 21st-century thinking skills through problem solving and hands-on activities."