From Aquaponics to oobleck, E-Lab students immersed in STEAM

By Juanice Gray, jgray@natchitochestimes.com

*Look for a follow-up story in the Thursday, May 23 edition!

When one hears the word steam, the brain brings up images of a tea kettle at full boil or a steam-powered locomotive. If your mind did that, you’re not an elementary school student. They immediately think of
Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics (STEAM), or hands-on technology.
STEAM is an educational approach to learning that uses those five directives for guiding student inquiry, dialogue and critical thinking. In a nutshell, it teaches in a way that makes hands-on learning fun and exciting. One source said the STEAM approach is based around questioning, and really deep questioning, ones whose answers can’t be found with a Google search.
NSU E-Lab Lisa Wiggins spearheaded a STEAM Day Thursday, May 16 featuring all aspects of the STEAM learning process. Wiggins procured funding to utilize space behind the school that could be transformed into an outdoor classroom. No desks, no chairs, just hands-on activities that get the student involved both mentally and physically.
Their first project, now several years in use, was a garden. Each grade level has a raised bed to grow their choice of agriculture product. During the STEAM Day, teams of fifth graders taught second graders about farming, the plants and how the environment affects crops. In the squash garden, one team member told me the squash blossoms, which are edible, are male if they remain closed and female if they flower.
The transition continued to project that involved recycling old turtle sandboxes into a monarch butterfly garden. Milkweed, a perinneal plant, is vital to the monarch migration.
This year, Wiggins obtained funding for an aqua house that is being utilized to teach aquaphonics. Aquaponics refers to any system that combines conventional aquaculture (raising aquatic animals such as snails, fish or crawfish in tanks) with hydroponics (cultivating plants in water) in a symbiotic environment. The aqua greenhouse features a planting area and a huge fish tank filled with native species of fish provided by the Natchitoches National Fish Hatchery.
Thursday’s stations also included a robotics coding area, fun ways to learn area and science experiment stations to create “elephant toothpaste” and Oobleck. Yes, I had to Google that one. Oobleck is a non-newtonian fluid. That is, it acts like a liquid when being poured, but like a solid when a force is acting on it.
Art is also a large part of STEAM learning. Students painted the steps to the “outdoor classroom” and an adjacent wall. The wall features three columns, yes, as a representation of NSU, but each column also represents the three factors of aquaphonics, fish, water and plants.
If you’re inspired by the projects these fifth graders can conduct, then let them show you at home. See below for a recipe for Oobleck. It’s only two mandatory ingredients and one optional one.
And, if you’re wondering if the students enjoyed STEAM Day, visit www.natchitochestimes.com for some videos of their enthusiasm.

Oobleck Recipe:
– 1 cup water
– 1.5-2 cups corn starch
– a few drops of food coloring of your choice (optional)
Start with the water in a bowl and start adding the corn starch to it. You can use a spoon at first, but pretty quickly you’ll be moving on to using your hand to stir it up.

When you’re getting close to adding 1.5 cups of the corn starch, start adding it in more slowly and mixing it in with your hand. The goal is to get a consistency where the Oobleck reaches a state that is the liquid and yet solid. Now that the Oobleck is just right, it’s time to add some color. We save this step for later because it’s a fun challenge to stir in the food coloring. You will have to slowly mix the Oobleck around to get it thoroughly mixed. Finally, play with it.

*Note: This article refers to aquaphonics in several instances. I wrote the name down incorrectly and consistently used it throughout the article. The correct terminology is aquaponics. I apologize for the error.