This week, students from Oxford Elementary School were taken on a series of interactive lessons provided by the Center for Math and Science Education at The University of Mississippi.

All of the lessons that day focused on some aspect of STEM subjects, which are science, technology, engineering and math. They performed experiments, conducted tests and had a good time learning about different ways to solve problems.

The STARLab Portable Planetarium is one of the more popular items housed at the CMSE. It’s a resource the CMSE sends around the state to let students across Mississippi enjoy a chance to get up close and personal with the universe.

The portable planetarium is a large inflatable igloo-shaped structure made of black fabric. There’s a projector set up inside the planetarium that casts a show of stars, moons and planets for people within the structure to see. The woman leading the lesson in the planetarium explained to first graders that the sun is also a star, and that there are billions of stars in the night sky. The projector showed the path that the sun cuts across the sky every day and where it sets.

Scenes in the planetarium shift in such a way to show kids the different planets in our solar system, how they revolve around the sun and how small moons revolve around the individual planets. They talked about the different structures of the planets and why they are uninhabitable for humans.

After the planetarium, the group learned about robotics. They were able sketch their idea of what a robot looks like and how it functions. Students were then given the opportunity to pilot small robots around a designated area using a tablet.

Students had the opportunity to explore the basics of engineering by constructing a car powered by a balloon. They had to plan out the shape and design of the car using a set of materials given to them at the beginning of the session. There was an instructor walking them through the basic principles they would need to understand exactly how to make the car move. Once the children had their axels constructed and wheels on them, they attached them to a body and put a balloon on the chassis. Students use a straw to blow up the balloon and then release it. The air expelling from the balloon thrusts the car forward.

Alice Steimle is the associate director of the CMSE. She said she always looks forward to these STEM Days as a way to engage young people in the wonders of the STEM field.

“I think its an opportunity for kids to see and be exposed to all of the possibilities that are out there,” Steimle said. “We know that not every one of these students is going to major in science, technology, engineering or math. But, I do think it’s important for them to be STEM-literate citizens. We want them to know these opportunities are there by exposing them to the different possibilities. It allows them to realized that they are problem solvers and that they can think critically about something. If they’re given a challenge or given a problem, they can think about it and solve it.”

STEM Days are open to any student group or organization. The service is provided in conjunction with a grant provided to the CMSE. For more information about the center and the different things they offer, visit Twitter: @chaningthegreen

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