Harford Hills Elementary students last STEM activity

By: Bidemi Oladiran (AmeriCorps VISTA)

The Harford Hills elementary after-school STEM program concluded on March 15th, 2016. The programs final lesson continued with topics on science and engineering taught by Ms. Nia Fields and I. The fourth and final lesson encouraged students to reduce their carbon footprint by doing an experiment. The first experiment involved using 0.04% Bromothymol blue (BTB) which is a chemical solution that detects if something is acidic or basic. In the first experiment students blew bubbles in a cup of water containing one drop of BTB which was originally light blue from the solution. The more the students blew bubbles, the more carbon dioxide (CO2) was produced which resulted in a yellow color change.  The second experiment consisted of filling a plastic bag with water after ensuring all the air was pressed out and adding ½ a tablet of antacid to the bag, along with 2 drops of BTB. The solution turned a darker yellow. The more CO2 there was the more acidic the solution became and the solution turned into darker yellow. The students were fascinated by this but their fascinating wouldn’t end there.


The third experiment involved using various types of milk from low fat milk like skim, 1%, and 2% to high fat milk like whole milk and cream. The students used a cotton swab dipped in dish soap to show how chemical bonds are weakened. The various milk were poured in a small aluminum pan, a drop of each color yellow, green, red and blue were placed in different places on the milk. Afterwards, the students gently placed the tip of cotton swab covered in soap onto the surface of the milk creating a swirl of rainbow colors in the milk. In actuality, what happened was that the dish soap was bipolar and the polar/hydrophilic/water-loving end dissolved in water while the non-polar/hydroph
obic/water-fearing end attached to the fat portion of the milk, bending the fat molecules causing them to “roll, twist and contort in all directions” thus resulting in the various rainbow colors seen.








Old Court Middle School Watershed Bay Stewards program

By: Bidemi Oladiran (AmeriCorps VISTA)


On February 20, 2016 the Old Court Middle School Bay stewards Watershed Saturday program convened. The students discussed how to properly create a timeline for the various due dates of their final Bay Stewards watershed projects. The Saturday program was made possible by a partial grant from BG&E. This program fosters a partnership between UME and Old Court middle school with a goal to teach students how their environment is impacted by our actions and how to be environmental stewards.

After the students discussed their projects they came together to decorate two rain barrels. Rain barrels can be used to store water during rainfalls. The collected water can be used to water plants during the summer months thus allowing people to conserve more water. The themes for the rain barrels focused on nature and under sea creatures. While the students were painting I interviewed them on what interesting things they learned, students Kendyl, Chelsea, Chaya and Tatiyana who were working on the nature theme rain barrel replied “pervious and impervious surfaces.” During the Saturday programs they learned that impervious surfaces like concrete pavement causes water quality degradation while pervious surfaces like soil helps to reduce pollution and replenish ground water.


As the students continued with their artistic endeavor, I asked them what they liked most about the Saturday program, one of the students Camiryn replied “being creative, and learning more about my environment.” When I asked how they would get a friend to join the Bay stewards program another student with a similar sounding name Camren replied “entice them with food and tell them what we do, how just joining can make an impact in society.”

I also asked what type of things they learned that they can use every day, Frank replied “you can get water through grass which is better for the environment.” Since grass is a pervious surface the water that sip into the soil can help prevent soil erosion. The students were able complete their rain barrel decorations with a variety of under sea creatures (mostly fictional) and plants found in nature.

Harford Hills Elementary students engage in Rockets to the Rescue

By: Bidemi Oladiran (AmeriCorps VISTA)


The Harford Hills elementary after-school STEM program continued on March 1st, 2016. The third lesson continued with topics on science and engineering taught by the 4-H team. The third lesson encouraged students to design their own rockets and accurately aim it at a target. The premise of the project was to provide food to an island that has been damaged by a storm. The students first went through what’s necessary to build a successful rocket and what rockets are sometimes used for. The students’ responses ranged from “sending people out to space” to “carrying different things.”  Not knowing a lot about rockets, I first thought rockets were mostly used to send people to space.  But the NASA website explains that rockets have more than purpose. NASA explains that a rocket isn’t just a “tall, thin, round vehicle that launches people to space, a rocket can mean a type of engine or it can mean a type of vehicle that uses that engine.”

In the Rockets to the Rescue lesson, students also went through the parts of a rocket. They learned that the parts consist of a tail, a body/fuselage and the nose, which is sometimes where people or packages would the placed. The students split up in teams of three and designed their own rockets by using various types of paper strengths and designing the rocket around a piece of PVC pipe. The students used various duct tape designs to decorate and keep their rockets intact. The PVC pipe was used mainly to get the body of the rocket accurate. The students also used various construction papers to build the tails of their rockets. After the students designed their rockets, they launched it hoping it would make it to the island, which was a plastic container. In order to launch the rockets, the fuel used was air, plastic bottles were attached to the PVC pipe and then the students got to stump on the plastic bottles releasing the air that would then launch the rockets.


Most of the students were successful in getting their rockets to go the distance; however none of the students were able to get their rockets to land on the “island.” The students learned that designing rockets for the sake of accuracy can sometimes be difficult, but they still enjoyed their success in building their rockets.




Harford Hills Elementary students build Clip mobile

By: Bidemi Oladiran (AmeriCorps VISTA)

The new Harford Hills elementary after-school STEM program spearheaded by Nia Fields and Dwayne Murphy, kicked off on February 2nd, 2016. The programs first lesson focused on science and engineering taught by Ms. Nia Fields, Mr. Dwayne Murphy and I. The first lesson encouraged students to design their own clip mobile: a car using materials such as craft sticks, straws, paper clips and other miscellaneous items. Twenty-four 1st through 5th grade Harford Hills students were asked to weigh in on the differences between scientists and engineers. Their combined responses were that “scientists study things” and “engineers build stuff.” When the students were asked what type of things engineers build they gave enthusiastic responses such as “Wal-Mart, Washington Monument, Empire state building, chairs, tables, etc.”

Mr. Dwayne Murphy tested the students observation skills by having them guess whether or not a cardboard with various tape textures will allow a box of paper clips to slide down an incline. Their responses ranged from “slide but slow, won’t slide.” When asked how to make the box of paper clips slide down the tape with rougher textures, the students responded that “more angle on the cardboard incline would make it slide”. Others responded to “add wheels, push the box, and flick the bottom of the cardboard to get the box to hop down the incline” .The lesson taught the students that the friction of the rougher tape textures kept the box from sliding down. The smoother tape textures that allowed the paper clip box to slide down easily because gravity pulled down on the paperclip box. The students also learned that the steeper the incline of the cardboard, the more gravity was able to push down on the box, causing it to slide down.


The main experiment involved students designing their own clip mobile with limited materials. The students needed to design their own vehicles that was capable of moving down an incline, while carrying a load (box of paper clips) without that load falling off. At the end of the experiment, students learned that it sometimes takes multiple tries before engineers are successful. Students learned that not having certain materials caused a restriction in how they could build their vehicles. Some restrictions included no scissors, no tape and limited time. One student replied “I wish I could have the whole day” to work on the project and time was really a factor and he was excited to keep going. At the end of the lesson, each group had a clip mobile, some were more successful than others, but they all look forward to next week’s lesson “Building a Marshmallow Catapult”!


Catonsville STEMsharks

By: Bidemi Oladiran (AmeriCorps VISTA)

The 4-H Catonsville STEMsharks club reconvened on March 11, 2016 after a three month hiatus.  The club meeting began with bold and exciting plans for the club’s future, part of which included doing two sponsored projects. Other plans included forming a robotics league and participating in competitions at the Baltimore county and state fairs. Afterwards, the club voted for new officers, there were three presidential, vice presidential, and treasurer candidates, along with one secretarial candidate vying for the position of officers. All the candidates gave their speeches for why they would make the best officer for the position. One of the vice presidential candidates suggested that “the kids should run the meeting not the adults.” Both adults and children were excited by this prospect as they cheered and laughed.  The secretary candidate and the three candidates for treasurer also gave their speeches. The treasurer candidate speeches were just as invigorating to listen to as they expressed their vigor for the position would be supported by the fact that they were “good with money, and always wanted to be a banker, so this would be good practice” as well as the fact that they were “good at math, and like testing math skills.”

Afterwards when the candidates gave their speeches the club meeting continued with the activity of the day. The younger age group the between ages 5-7 were the clovers and were separated from the older children. The clovers completed their engineering project, which consisted of building a tower out of gum drops and toothpicks. One of the clovers Mira expressed that she wanted to “build the tallest tower.”

CAM00286 (1) In the meantime the older age group moved on to learning about computer logic, and how computers learn and think.  All the members learned that computers know two numbers “0 and 1” and that this was called binary, and as a joke it was “how computers learned to play angry birds.” The members learned that computers need to know when and how to count things, and as an exercise they would be the computer and learn to read and write in binary.  The members were split into three groups of five, four members of each group would be the volunteers acting as the binary code, while the fifth member recorded how the members would count to fifteen using binary.  The four volunteers of each team had numbers 1, 2, 4, 8 and when they sat down they were all zeros, but when they stood up, they were all ones. If they stood up their number was included (1), if they sat down their number wasn’t included (0). For instance, if you wanted to get to 13, numbers 1, 4, 8 would stand up and they would be ones, but 2 would stay seated and would be a zero.

Afterwards, the members were asked what kind of patterns they saw, the members revealed that “for every zero there’s the same amount of ones.” Another pattern is that whenever it was an odd number, the members designated as 1 stood up. The members also learned that a bit, is short for binary digit and 8 bits is called a byte, 4 bits is called a nibble and allowed the members to count to 15. They also learned that 5 bits would allow them to count to 31 and a gigabyte is one million people standing up and down, a computer is a million times faster. The members continued with the lesson by learning about NAND gates which are basic digital logic gates.

The NAND construction and digital construction consists of various types of gates including NAND, NOT, AND, OR, NOR, XOR, and XNOR. With these gates, any logic combination could be realized, but the members focused on mainly NAND as well as AND gates. The NAND is and inversion of an AND gate, so if the first two inputs is 0, the output is 1 for NAND gate rather than 0 for an AND gate. The concept of NAND, AND gates was more challenging for the members. As the meeting came to a close the votes for the new officers were tallied and the new officers were names. The elected president was Georgina, the Vice President Dino, the secretary went to is Aiden and the Treasurer is Gareth.  Congrats to them all! With new officers chosen and a new direction for the club, the members looked forward to the next meeting.


Images from www.fool.com and hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu

Harford Hills Elementary students build Marshmallow Catapult

By: Bidemi Oladiran (AmeriCorps VISTA)

CAM00208 (1)The Harford Hills elementary after-school STEM program continued on February 23rd, 2016 after a two week hiatus due to snow. The second session encouraged students to design their own marshmallow catapult by using craft sticks and rubber bands to learn about motion and Newton’s first law of motion, also known as the law of inertia. Before they started building the students were asked to explain what they knew about Newton’s first law. What the students learned and what some already knew was that “an object at rest stays at rest, and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless an unbalance force acts on it”. An example they were given are seatbelts and why we wear them. If we didn’t wear seatbelts and the car stops, we would keep moving at the same speed the car was moving because there isn’t an unbalanced force to stop us. In the case of the car, the breaks are the force that stops the car, but the seatbelts are the force that stops the passengers from moving after the car has been stopped.

The students were taught how to build their catapults by putting rubber-bands around two sticks, and then stacking eight sticks that were wrapped in rubber-bands. The eight sticks acted as the cross piece or wings which were moved between the two sticks that acted as the base of the catapult. The educators then helped the students hot glue bottle caps towards the top end of the catapult to serve as the launching container. The students were encouraged to decorate their catapults and to test and re-adjust their catapults the same way engineers often have to before deciding on a final prototype.

CAM00207After each student designed their catapults, they competed to see who could launch the marshmallow the farthest. The second test was to see who could accurately get the marshmallow into a container. While none of the students successfully landed in the container, several students came very close. During the tests the students learned that changing the position of the crosspiece provided the greatest distance. In addition to the law of motion, the students also learned about potential and kinetic energy. They learned that potential energy is the stored energy and kinetic energy is what’s being used when in motion. They also learned that if their marshmallows flew too far past the trashcan, then the catapult should not be pushed too far down to reduce the kinetic energy and be able to better aim at the trashcan. But, if the marshmallow barely made it to the trash can, then they needed to increase the kinetic energy by pushing down more on the catapult. At the end of the lesson the students learned about the science behind motion and energy, and they each got to take home their own marshmallow catapult.