By Danica Chen, Del Norte High School
“Of course I’m excited to start learning,” says Mary P., a fourth grader from Stone Ranch Elementary. “It’s always fun learning about science at these events."
This is not an uncommon opinion held amongst the participants attending All Girls STEM Society’s Gases Workshop, designed to teach girls from third to fifth grade about the basics of wind currents and air pressure. The workshop took place this October 14th at the Carmel Valley Public Library.
“I’m really happy that I get to teach this,” says Lindsay Wright, the participant turned volunteer teaching the event. “I’ve always been really devoted to AGSS and I’m glad I get to make a larger contribution to the whole thing. I get to start making the workshops that I was learning from before."
The workshop began with a presentation about the basic states of matter, properties of gases, atoms, and more. In between the teaching of the concepts was the windbag experiment, a partner activity in which the girls were learned how to fill a long plastic bag as fast as possible. Aside from teaching the girls fundamental principles of drag and friction, filling and tying up the bags was a fun game for the girls, who used them like swords, balloons, and kites during break.
The next part of the presentation was a look at Joanne Simpson, the first woman to receive a PhD in meteorology. By shining a light on a prominent female scientist, AGSS hopes to inspire its young audience to develop an interest in STEM fields. The presentation, and the organization as a whole, seeks to address the underrepresentation of women in science by cultivating a passion for STEM in the younger generation of females. The Joanne Simpson presentation was followed by a trivia section, in which girls could win prizes for correct answers.
After that presentation there was a short break for snacks and a group photo. Everyone, from long-time AGSS participants to volunteers who joined this year, stood shoulder to shoulder, smiling.
With the end of break came a more in-depth look at the air pressure with two experiments using the empty water bottles girls saved from break. One was the paper ball challenge–participants placed bits of paper into the lip of their water bottles and blew as hard as possible into the bottles. To the participant’s surprise, the paper ball would not blow into the bottles, as the seemingly empty bottles were already filled with air. The next experiment was the “Magic Water Bottle” experiment, where girls put water bottles in mugs and blew into the mugs, causing the water bottle to jump out. Both activities taught a fundamental concept about air and air pressure, giving the girls a more in-depth understanding of the workings of gases in everyday life.
The next experiment, the “Soda Can Attraction” activity, taught the participants about the movement of wind. Using specially crafted boxes two soda cans suspended inside, girls found that by blowing between the cans, the cans would actually come together. The activity was a demonstration of the Bernoulli’s principle, which, despite its complicated name, was something the girls managed to grasp with the hands-on experience.
More information was taught about convection and the Coriolis effect, using a Lazy Susan as a metaphor to describe the way the wind travels around the Earth. Girls had an amusing time naming their favorite Chinese foods and learning how their hands would move them around the table–or, in real terms, how the wind moved across the two hemispheres.
The event finally concluded with Jeopardy, giving the girls the opportunity to review the concepts taught over the course of the workshop with a competitive game. Every student gathered into teams and eagerly raised their hands after every question to win the game. Although the promise of prizes was clearly a significant motivator, the drive to win for learning’s sake alone was evident in the joy and elation with which girls discussed the answers with each other.
In my fifth year with the organization, I still find each event to be an energizing experience. Even though the organization’s purpose is inspire girls, they continue to inspire me with their spirit, determination, and enthusiasm to learn when presented with a fun way to do it.
The next workshop is All Girls STEM Society’s Lego Mindstorm Workshop teaching the basics of mechanics, electronic design, sensors, and programming. It will take place at the Mission Valley Public Library on November 4th. More details can be found here.