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‘NERD Girls’ burst into science with volcano project

Clark College group aims to get students excited about tech, engineering and math careers

By , Columbian Education Reporter
Published: March 10, 2015, 12:00am
2 Photos
Harney Elementary School students prepare model volcanoes to erupt via a chemical reaction between baking soda and vinegar on Monday. Clark College's NERD Girls wrapped up their six-week, after-school science camp with a bang.
Harney Elementary School students prepare model volcanoes to erupt via a chemical reaction between baking soda and vinegar on Monday. Clark College's NERD Girls wrapped up their six-week, after-school science camp with a bang. Photo Gallery

o What: Science in Action Day features college faculty and local STEM experts leading hands-on activities throughout the day, followed by a keynote speaker. NERD (Not Even Remotely Dorky) Girls is a science, technology, engineering and math program at Clark College. Its mission is to break down the stereotypes concerning women in STEM fields through outreach and campus events.

o When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 25.

o Where: Penguin Union Building, Clark College, 1933 Fort Vancouver Way, Vancouver.

oCost: Free to local middle and high school students.

o Information: http://twitter.com/clarknerdgirls. To register, email nerdgirls.clark@gmail.com.

As they carried their clay volcanoes into a classroom, about 25 fourth- and fifth-graders talked excitedly about what would happen next at after-school science camp: volcanic eruptions.

Monday afternoon was the last day of a six-week after-school science camp at Harney Elementary School led by NERD Girls, a team of Clark College instructors and students who focus on science, technology, engineering and math.

NERD stands for Not Even Remotely Dorky.

The purpose of NERD Girls is to break down the stereotypes of women in STEM fields through outreach and campus events. Students pay a $5 fee to participate in the class. If families can’t afford the $5, the school’s parent-teacher organization pays for it.

o What: Science in Action Day features college faculty and local STEM experts leading hands-on activities throughout the day, followed by a keynote speaker. NERD (Not Even Remotely Dorky) Girls is a science, technology, engineering and math program at Clark College. Its mission is to break down the stereotypes concerning women in STEM fields through outreach and campus events.

o When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 25.

o Where: Penguin Union Building, Clark College, 1933 Fort Vancouver Way, Vancouver.

oCost: Free to local middle and high school students.

o Information: http://twitter.com/clarknerdgirls. To register, email nerdgirls.clark@gmail.com.

This particular camp focused on volcanoes, said Tina Barsotti, engineering instructor at Clark College. Earlier in the camp, students had formed clay volcanoes and inserted a straw in the middle.

On another day, they painted their volcanoes. One boy painted orange-red lava flowing down his volcano and, for a flourish, near the base he wrote: “Mt. Doom.” That’s the volcano in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

On Monday, students learned how a chemical reaction between baking soda and vinegar causes the clay volcanoes to erupt.

But before the eruptions commenced, Addy Dinehart, president of NERD Girls, first taught a short lesson about the components of atoms and the periodic table of elements.

Students were asked to choose an element on the periodic table and determine how many protons it has. Then students built atoms using marshmallows for protons, dried cranberries for neutrons and raisins for electrons, which circle around the other two.

Ashlyn Bacon announced she was building an atom of beryllium, which requires four protons, four neutrons and four electrons . She carefully counted out four of each food types and soon had built her atom on a paper plate.

Next to her, Ian Fairgrieve built a boron atom and talked about what kind of career he envisioned.

“Maybe a science professor,” Ian said.

When the students finished building their atoms, they had permission to eat them.

All of the waiting was too much for one boy.

“When do we get to explode our volcanoes?” he asked no one in particular.

First, the club’s instructors carefully poured baking soda into each volcano cone. Then students were handed a small paper cup with vinegar. Baking soda plus vinegar equals a chemical reaction. The kids were primed.

The kids poured vinegar into their volcanic craters.

As the volcanoes erupted, so did the decibel level.

“Whoa! It’s exploding! Look at that!”

“My moat’s filling up! It’s going to overflow!”

“My plate’s all wet!”

Afterward, two girls headed to the sink to clean up their volcanic mess and discussed what kind of job they might like.

“I kind of want to do science,” said Jillian Farber.

“I kind of want to do science, too!” Ashlyn said. “I’m going to Clark College to be an engineer. My dad is an engineer at Clark College.”

After the last bit of volcanic “lava” was wiped off the floor, the kids headed outside to link arms and build kid-sized atoms. The protons and neutrons hung out together in the center while the rambunctious electrons circled them.

Next up for NERD Girls is Science in Action Day, a free, hands-on event for middle school and high school students on April 25 at Clark College.

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