Teen STEM Café filled with science, learning, and fun (and pizza!)
Founded by Northern Illinois University through the leadership of Dr. Judith Dymond, our NIU Teen STEM Café has managed to pull off an amazing year filled with science, learning, and fun! Our teen STEM leadership team holds meetings once a month throughout the school year. During these meetings, our teen leaders (Wolffe Carlson, Zoey Rocen, Stella Tejada, Allison Vogt, and Lexi Roehr) meet to discuss the preparations for the upcoming STEM Café that month. We meet and vet the speakers, decide what activities will take place, who will do which jobs, etc.
Throughout the course of the 2018-2019 school year, we have managed to deliver four different events. We learned about computer hacking, data science, storm chasing, and Esports. Overall, all four of the events were very successful. However, we all agreed that the event on storm chasing was our most successful topic. The storm-chasing event included many of the same components that all of our events had: free pizza and dessert, ice breakers, an activity, an amazing speaker, and time to meet new people. During our storm-chasing event, Professor Walker Ashley of NIU shared his professional knowledge on what forms a tornado, what storm chasing is like, and general information on big storms. He also shared many of his own pictures that he took of different tornados. His discussion was preluded by an activity picked out by our student leaders: making tornados in a bottle. We used two soda bottles, water, food coloring, dish soap, and a special cap that joined the two bottles together that allowed the attendants of the event to witness a simulated tornado up close.
As we reflected back on the event, we pointed out all of its strong points. We had a comfortable and very intelligent speaker who made learning the information very interesting and captivating. The icebreaker questions at the beginning of the event opened up discussion between the teens and allowed for all of them to get to know each other better. Both our friendly speaker and opening questions allowed for everyone to feel more comfortable and at ease throughout the night. Another strong point from this particular café was the higher attendance. Our teen leaders realized that our numbers seemed to be down for our previous two events, and we really worked to get more teens in attendance. By talking to science teachers at our schools and spreading the word through social media, more teens attended the final event of the year!
The success of this event can also be attributed to the experience that we gained through the previous events. By observing and taking the attendants’ reflections seriously, we really tried to fix many of the problems that we noted from the other events. In particular, we think the way in which we increased the variation in our topics helped to lead to our success. Our prior three cafés were very computer related and were all in the same realm of STEM. By introducing storm chasing as one of our topics, we introduced a different kind of subject in a physical science field. We believe that mixing up the kinds of topics helped to increase interest for the students that attended.
We are grateful for our partnership with the Sugar Grove Library and librarian Genna Mickey for our space. We are also grateful to Open Range Southwest Grill for their donations of shirts for teen leaders and the pizzas.