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Marshmallows Prove STEM Careers Are Not Puff Jobs

Marshmallows, toothpicks and masking tape may seem unlikely tools to persuade Appleview Elementary students in the direction of STEM careers, but Melissa Utter had an idea.

The fifth-grade math and social studies teacher said demand for jobs in the U.S. related to science, technology, engineering and math continues to swell. And because demand is outpacing the number of people filling those jobs, STEM career employees earn 25 percent more than their non-STEM counterparts.

Helping Children Develop STEM Skills at Home

  • Play number games like Sequence Numb3rs, Yahtzee, Milles Bournes, Monopoly or Multiplication War
  • Watch for cool inventions on the Internet or news media and discuss them over dinner
  • Encourage curiosity and research
  • Spend computer time on Khan Academy
Source: Free Rice

“STEM careers are our best and brightest hope,” Utter said. “Demand for STEM employees is expected to far exceed the supply that is currently projected in the United States.”

Plus, nearly all STEM skills can be traced back to success in mathematics, added Appleview Elementary Principal Mike Birely.

Glittery Microscopes

It’s for those reasons that glittery plastic syringes, beakers, test tubes and microscopes dangled from the school’s suspended ceiling. The sparkling scientific instruments were there to catch students’ eyes.

Next to them were around 80 index cards with STEM-related careers printed on them including software engineer, manufacturing and chemical engineers, biomedical research and physics. This could be your future, Utter told the students.

And yes, marshmallows played a role at Appleview in guiding young students toward those STEM careers.

A recent challenge was for students to form small groups and — with a bag of mini marshmallows, 75 toothpicks, a 12-inch roll of masking tape, two paper clips, two marbles and four index cards — build the highest freestanding skyscraper they could construct.

Sparta High School’s Science Olympiad lent a hand judging the competitions and serving as scientific mentors.

Points were earned by whichever team built the highest freestanding structure without it toppling. Additional points were earned for the design.

It’s MAD Math Month

The skyscraper challenge was part of a month-long initiative in April dubbed “Math Month with a MAD science theme.” Utter said MAD is uppercased not because it’s an acronym, but to dedicate a month to math and science.

“Everyone knows March is Reading Month,” Utter said. “I started banging the gong to celebrate Math Month.”

And as students soon discovered, constructing a weight-bearing skyscraper isn’t as easy as it sounds, due in part to the deliciousness of the building materials.

Keep Them Out of Your Mouth

“They’re not for eating, but we’re stressed,” fourth-grader Noe Jaimes said. “If we make it tall enough, we’ll probably get some points for making it tall. We should use less tape. We don’t want to use too much tape.”

Third-grader Liliana Steinbrecher decided her team should go the other direction and apply as much tape as possible. It proved difficult both to keep itfrom toppling and to not compare themselves to other teams.

“Stuff more marshmallows to the base,” Liliana advised her teammates. “The tower must stand on its own. Look at those smart people over there.”


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