IDAHO FALLS, Idaho – Employees with the DOE Idaho Operations Office and EM cleanup contractor Fluor Idaho joined other volunteers to teach some 1,500 elementary school students about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) at an event at the local zoo.
“This year’s STEM Day at the Zoo really had something for everyone,” Fluor Idaho Chief Engineer and STEM volunteer Joe Giebel said. “There was a good mix of topics ranging from electricity generation, genetics, and the importance of protecting the environment. Of course, the booths that included hands-on activities were the most popular with the children.”
In addition to STEM Day at the Zoo, Fluor Idaho relies on the use of the Museum of Idaho to promote student interest in events involving robotics, architecture, and the current exhibit Steampunk, which highlights steam-powered gadgets.
Educators such as Jill Rehfield, a second-grade teacher, said her students had been looking forward to the experience for weeks.
“It’s their favorite event of the year,” Rehfield said. “As a teacher, this is an outstanding way to bring my learning targets to life as my students can experience firsthand situations that I can’t replicate in the classroom.”
This year’s event focused on the environment and featured 20 learning stations. The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality discussed the movement of water and the importance of the Snake River Plain Aquifer, which underlies the Idaho National Laboratory site and is used by more than 300,000 residents in southeastern Idaho for municipal purposes, agriculture, and drinking water.
Staff at the Idaho Falls Zoo discussed the importance of properly disposing of plastic to ensure the material isn’t discarded in the environment, later to ensnare animals. Students also assumed the role of engineer as they used aluminum foil to design boats that can still float when loaded with weight.
STEM Day also covered subjects such as chromatography, photosynthesis, electricity, physics, mechanical engineering, and hydrology. This year, the program added art.
“We are incredibly fortunate to have community minded organizations such as DOE and Fluor Idaho here to help support these important learning events,” Idaho Falls Zoo Education Curator Sunny Katseanes said. “It is challenging for any one institution or organization to put on these types of events, but working together we help enhance and improve the educational opportunities for students in eastern Idaho.”