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Gizmos, snakes and a bowling ball circling your head

STEM fair showcases what’s to come in high school

Kentwood — Seniors Breanna Gallegos and Ava Chatlosh’s DNA station  at the recent East Kentwood High School STEM Fair was popular with elementary students eager to learn “pipetting skills” – the proper use of an important tool needed in experimentation.

The girls, who are in AP biology, led the station as an introduction to what is involved in DNA research. They recently completed a study on GMO, or genetically modified, bacteria as part of an independent investigation project for class.

“Ava and I have a big interest in bacteria and DNA. We did our project on making GMOs,” Breanna said. “Pipetting is a big process in what we had to do for that. We thought it would be a fun, interactive thing for kids to do.”

Around them, a nimble robot – maneuvered by students – threw balls through a hoop; snakes big and small coiled around arms; and a bowling ball swung toward a student’s head – the laws of physics keeping it from making impact. 

More than 100 student-created projects demonstrated students’ learning and creativity in the East Kentwood High School Fieldhouse. Students played putt-putt golf to practice geometry, made chemistry experiments bubble and controlled gadgets and gizmos of many kinds. 

A student rebounds a ball thrown through a hoop by a robot used in robotics at East Kentwood High school

Students Leading Students

It was the return of the annual fair (following a two-year break because of the pandemic) that showcases and promotes everything the high school has to offer in science, technology, engineering and math, said AP biology teacher Chad VanHouten. 

Students from the district’s middle and elementary schools attended during the school day, with parents and community members stopping by in the evening, to get an idea of the many options at East Kentwood.

‘I love the idea of having kids learn from kids. There is a very large, pent-up demand for any field trip or hands-on experience.’

– AP biology teacher Chad VanHouten

The best part about it, Van Houten said: “It’s all students leading students. There are no adult stations. I love the idea of having kids learn from kids. There is a very large, pent-up demand for any field trip or hands-on experience.”

It also gets students excited for the many STEM courses and electives awaiting them at the high school. “The goal is for students to know or have a glimpse of what they would like to sign up for,” VanHouten said.

Reptiles, Robots and Research

With an Increased Melanin Gene (IMG) boa constrictor named Calima weighing 40 pounds wrapped around her arm, junior Ja’leah Elton talked about her experience in project-based science, a class where she had gotten to know snakes and helped with a group project on the genetics of increasing melanin. The biology department at East Kentwood is home to many reptiles, birds and mammals. 

“When I first joined this class I was very scared,” Ja’leah said. “Not a lot of schools offer this opportunity to see a lot of animals and get out of your comfort zone with them.”

A robot travels around the high school fieldhouse during the student-led STEM Fair
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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio

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