Portland students show off, learn at annual STEM Fair

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PORTLAND — Students got to show off their projects and get a peek at what businesses and colleges offer in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math at the Portland Public Schools’ annual STEM Fair.

The fair, which was held Nov. 3 in the Sullivan Gym on the Portland campus of the University of Southern Maine, attracted just under 2,000 visitors, mostly students from the city’s elementary and middle schools.

The fair included more than 50 exhibits, including one by Jack O’Connell, a fourth-grader at Lyseth Elementary. His project was on owls, specifically the great horned owl, which is often seen in Maine, and the barn owl, which is a rare site.

His teacher, Margaret Reimann, said O’Connell’s owl exhibit reflected a focus on inquiry-based and place-based science.

O’Connell said the coolest thing about owls is what they cough up in their pellets.

Another student exhibitor was Linda Trinh from Deering High School, who was showcasing her work on water quality assessment in the Capisic Brook Watershed.

Trinh is one of two Stormwater Management Research Team student researchers at Deering. The goal of the project is to create “innovative solutions to stormwater management” issues, according to the University of Maine, which sponsors the research project.

During the fair, Trinh showed Theo Gordon, a fifth-grader at Longfellow Elementary, how to test the pH levels in water she’d brought from Capisic Pond.

For her project, Deborah Mwiza, a fifth-grader at the East End Community School, studied insects. As part of her entomology project, she imagined a new bug species, which she then brought to life using 3D printing technology.

You won’t find Mwiza’s midnight bug in the wild, but its characteristics include the ability to change color with the changing of day to night. Its habitat, like many real-life insects, is a woodland pond and it eats other insects to stay alive.

Among the professional exhibitors were representatives from USM, the University of Maine and Southern Maine Community College, as well as EnviroLogix, Revision Energy, Idexx andTyler Technologies.

EnviroLogix, a Portland-based company focusing on the worldwide food chain, has been a key sponsor of the STEM Fair, according to a Portland School District press release.

“EnviroLogix welcomes the opportunity to once again play a role in opening students’ eyes to the exciting world of STEM,” company President Bill Welch said in the release. “We’re proud to be a partner with the Portland Public Schools in helping make students aware of the applied innovation that exists right here in their backyard. Our participation also benefits us as a technology company, because it’s not only an investment in the community, but also in potential future employees.”

Crystal West, a student at USM, spent much of the fair playing math games with students who approached her booth.

One of those was Kiara Venerable, a fifth-grader at Lyseth Elementary. The two played a game called 4-Way Countdown, which West said requires players to add, multiply, divide and subtract.

When asked if she was enjoying the challenge, Venerable said, “Yes!”

Meanwhile, Caitlin D’Andrea and Lauren Gerber from Lincoln Middle School got silly in front of a video camera set up by Southern Maine Community College to show off what can be done with digital videography.

In another part of Sullivan Gym, Jayden Can and Benvindo Sessa, students at East End Community School, were taking part in an exercise that allowed them to dissect a sheep’s brain.

The goal of that exhibit was to show students the differences and similarities between human and sheep brains.

At the Idexx booth, Wendy LePage showed Bilal Mohamed, from Longfellow Elementary, how the company creates diagnostic tests for animal health purposes.

Superintendent of Schools Xavier Botana said the fair, which is in its fourth year, is a great chance for students to “learn from local businesses and others about STEM applications in real life.

“It’s also an opportunity for Portland Public Schools students to showcase their STEM learning for fellow students and the public,” Botana said.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Jack O’Connell, from Lyseth Elementary School, did his project on owls for the Portland Public Schools’ annual STEM Fair.

Linda Trinh, right, from Deering High School, shows Theo Gordon, from Longfellow Elementary, how to test acidity in water.

 

 

Crystal West, a student at USM, plays 4-Way Countdown with Kieara Venerable, a fifth-grader at Lyseth Elementary.

Caitlin D’Andrea, left, and Lauren Gerber, from Lincoln Middle School, learn about digital videography.

 

 

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