IOWA CITY – Connor Burr dropped marbles by the pair into a paper cup suspended by a string and attached to two skinny poles, each anchored in a container of soil, sand and clay.
The contraption was a model of a type of river crossing cable system, and the cup gradually lowered as marbles were added until it caused the poles to collapse.
The project, testing different soil bases to support the weight of the system, was undertaken this year by the science club at Lemme Elementary School in Iowa City.
“I enjoy seeing new things,” said Conner, 12, a sixth-grader at the school.
The project, along with those done by more than 180 students from a dozen area schools, was on display Monday at the Corridor STEM Initiative’s end-of-year showcase on the University of Iowa campus.
STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math. The Corridor STEM Initiative is a group of educators and business partners supporting more learning opportunities in those areas for young people.
There has been a push nationally and in Iowa to increase interest and proficiency in STEM subjects.
Republican Gov. Terry Branstad has appointed a STEM advisory council, and that group is hosting a daylong STEM summit in Des Moines on May 15.
The Corridor STEM Initiative, working with the Grant Wood Area Education Agency and school districts, has awarded state-funded grants ranging from $1,500 to $8,000 for extra STEM programs at 13 area schools.
The classes, for grades three through eight, occur outside of the normal school day and are overseen by teachers or after-school program coordinators, said Yukiko Hill, Grant Wood AEA teacher in residence.
The initiative started several years ago following reports that Americans were falling woefully behind in STEM subjects, said Dick Whitehead, superintendent of the College Community school district.
Other projects on display Monday explored the pros and cons of solar versus nuclear power, forensic science and water filtration.
The girls science club at HLV Community School in Victor used Legos to study things like how the force needed to pull a weight up a ramp changed with the slope of the ramp.
Science is sometimes seen as a male-dominated field, but the girls of HLV said they could do just as well as boys.
“I thought it was fun learning to work together,” 10-year-old Josie Hall said.
Teamwork is one of the pluses of engineering, Jennifer Waskow, manager of printed circuit board design at Rockwell Collins, told the crowd. As a child she thought engineers were “kind of nerdy” and worked alone on computers, but that’s not the case, she said, as she encouraged the students to consider STEM fields.
“I challenge you to continue to wonder about the world around you,” she said.