Sunday, January 24, 2016

A Floating Classroom and Other STEM Experiences

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By: Allison B.

            There’s a lot of talk about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) these days and trying to get girls involved, but sometimes conferences and speakers aren’t enough to get them excited about the science, technology, engineering, and math fields. What it can really take is a fun, hands-on experience that makes a lasting impression. And if you’re one of those girls that doesn’t just want to sit through a STEM conference and hear about how awesome those fields are, but instead actually get out there and try it for yourself, you’re in luck! Because for all you STEM fans out there, now you have the opportunity to not just learn about it in a classroom, but to try it for yourself in a FLOATING classroom. That’s right! One of the coolest STEM activities close to home you can try is the floating classroom on Lake Lanier!
            When we think about Lake Lanier, we think about a popular recreational lake where you can enjoy boating, tubing, swimming, and chilling. And it is all of those things! But it also has a hidden history (literally!), provides drinking water to almost half of Georgia’s residents, and is a home to over 200 species of birds, dozens of fish, and a variety of mammals, big and small. And with Lake Lanier being close to the start of the Chattahoochee, this lake also affects the water levels in the Chattahoochee River for three different states! Lake Lanier is so much more than a place for leisure. It is biologically and chemically beautiful. And if you were to take a ride on the Chota Princess, you’d see exactly what that means!
            In 2000, the Floating Classroom of Lake Lanier was founded, when a simple pontoon boat was bought and turned into a learning expedition of a lifetime. Chattahoochee River Keepers and Elachee Nature Science Preserve got together to bring their knowledge of the lake to children. They named the boat the Chota Princess, with “Chota” being the Cherokee word for the Chattahoochee River; what the Lake feeds into. These nature enthusiasts created an amazing hands-on STEM experience for middle and high school students; an experience they never forget. Wind whipping through their hair and the sun shining on their faces as the cool waters of Lake Lanier lap at the side of the grand pontoon, students embark on an adventure of a lifetime. This is a two-hour journey around the well-known lake that will give them little-known information and experiences. Have you ever wanted to see real plankton you catch yourself under a microscope? Or find the pH of something more interesting than tap water? All of these things and more can happen when sailing with the Lake Experts.
            I don’t think this STEM fieldtrip is awesome because of what I’ve read and heard about it. I think it’s awesome because I got to actually experience it for myself! After buckling into my lifejacket on the hot August day, I stepped on to the beautiful and quite large Chota Princess and took a seat. Throughout the two-hour experience, you learn so much about Lanier’s history! I learned about the flooded town that lies below the water’s surface, and found out that one of the Lanier lighthouses is the highest above sea level in Georgia! And the cool thing about this classroom is that it’s never boring! As I and the other Girl Scouts aboard the pontoon split up into groups, we started doing some really cool experiments right from the boat in the middle of the lake, just like real scientists! We tested the water for clarity, scooped up microscopic Zooplankton and looked at them through microscopes, and did some titrations, similar to those done in high school chemistry labs, to test the Lake’s pH. It really was fascinating! A STEM experience like this really does so much more for people, as they can actually do some of the fun things scientists and engineers really do for a living. It can help a person see what STEM is truly about when he or she gets to get in on the action, and not just listen in on the fun.
For more information about this incredible Floating Classroom experience and other field trips, go to http://chattahoochee.org/our-work/education-training/floating-classroom/. And for help scheduling your own field trip, email Janice Jones at the Elachee Nature Science Center at janice@elachee.org.
            There are so many field trips and events like this all over the place, but sometimes the hardest part can be finding out about them in the first place. One of the best things you can do as a Girl Scout to learn about some really cool opportunities each year is to go to the STEM expo in October. And in 2015, the expo took on a new form as it became the STEAM expo, adding Arts to the acronym. The 2015 expo was a truly incredible experience. There was something for Girl Scouts of all ages and all interests. Girls could learn about so many kinds of jobs, from women in aviation to fashion designers to engineers or even wildlife preservation. And not only did you get to walk around the booths and look at different kinds of STEAM jobs and learn about field trip opportunities, there was so much more than that!
            A lot of girls like hands-on experiences, and walking around simply looking at booths can sometimes be over their heads or even a little boring. But something the STEAM expo provides is variety. At the 2015 expo, girls had the opportunity to ride a human-sized hamster wheel and hover board. Nature-lovers got to hold an owl wing at the Chattahoochee Nature Center booth, and Discover Science allowed them to view live sea animals in a small container environment as well as see shark and onion skin under a microscope. The engineers could drive mini-bots and mini cars, as well as fly a fighter jet simulator. And you can’t go wrong with carbon dioxide covered snacks, a Van de Graff generator, or the chance to play with smoking bubbles. And for the artists, an entire section was dedicated for mini crafts and personal touches to the expo dresses made out of whatever the girls could design! So whether you are a mystery- solving Cadet, a fashion-designing Brownie or Junior, or even a job-seeking Ambassador, there was, and always is, something for everyone at the Girl Scout STEAM Expo!
To find out more about STEM and STEM careers, go to http://www.ed.gov/stem. And to find out more about STEAM and STEAM careers, go to http://www.prettybrainy.com/.

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