University of Alaska Anchorage civil engineering student Jordan Cooper never imagined that signing up as a Brownie with her local Juneau Girl Scouts chapter in first grade would end up being such a transformative experience—but it was. So much so, that now Jordan is paying it forward to help youth across the state get excited about about science, technology, engineering and math, also known as STEM.
STEM has been a buzzword in the education world because of its integrated approach to teach the four disciplines of STEM. The push has come from these fields in the U.S. and across the globe to encourage young minds to become interested in and pursue careers in each of these disciplines. And that’s where Jordan and her Kids Rock Science website comes in. Her user-friendly website is geared toward helping parents, teachers and adults who interact with youth, and combines education, fun and the opportunity to make a few explosions (who doesn’t like those?), to teach STEM in a meaningful and kid-friendly way.
“Kids need STEM and the wide variety of skills associated with it to be successful in their lives,” said Jordan. “I know many adults that would love to provide STEM activities, sessions and games for kids—but they don’t feel like they have the time, skills or prior knowledge to do so. My goal is to inspire and give adults the confidence and the materials needed.”
Designing a curriculum
If you search Google for kids’ activities in STEM, pages and pages of results pull up—so why, when there’s an abundance of websites, experiments and activities geared toward teaching kids STEM, did Jordan feel the need to create a curriculum of her own? Essentially, she says it boils down to combing through the internet is hard.
“There are thousands of STEM activity ideas floating around in the internet and adults find it’s overwhelming to wade through it all in an effort to find something,” she said.
So Jordan rolled up her sleeves and set to work digging through the clutter herself to create activities, games and science experiments that would help adults engage the youth in their lives with STEM. She spent hours brainstorming, researching, curating and, ultimately, testing a collection of activities, games and experiments. The end result? The Kids Rock Science website.
“The activities are educational, but they are also just a lot of fun,” Jordan said. Jordan’s curated activities include experiments like “Elephant Toothpaste,” where multicolored foam is shot into the air to teach kids about chemical reactions, or the Salty Ice Cream activity which educates on the properties of matter and freezing points of elements. Each lesson includes a brief description of the activity and a list of the supplies needed to complete it. Adults and kids have a wide selection of activities, games and experiments in each of the four STEM disciplines to choose from—all on an easy to navigate site that has been designed specifically for them.
“My favorite part of these activities is watching kids get excited as they make their lung model breathe and squeal as they watch fire right in front of them,” she said. “Even better is that ‘aha’ moment, when they finally figure out how to make their rock float—and why it works.”
Girls, Girl Scouts and STEM
For Jordan, creating the Kids Rock Science website extends all the way back to her days as a Brownie in her Juneau Girl Scouts troop. She said that as she moved through the levels of the Girl Scouts organization, two themes became abundantly clear: community and service.
“I have always wanted to help people and Girls Scouts gave me wonderful opportunities to do that in a safe, fun way,” said Jordan. Her junior year, she went to Camp Featherwinds, a weeklong Girl Scouts camp in Haines. Before the camp, she was nervous about being away from home for so long, but once she experienced the thrill of camp life, it solidified her decision to become a lifelong Girl Scout.
Although college life and pursuing her engineering degree takes up much of her free time these days, she still makes room to fit in community service into extracurriculars. She hopes to connect again with the Girl Scouts in the future and one day become a scout leader. But for now, she’s proud of the work she’s doing to help young minds connect with STEM.
“My hope is that this project provides a good resource for adults so that more children have access to STEM activities,” Jordan said. “I want to see more young people—especially girls—have an interest in and pursue STEM careers.”
Written by Catalina Myers, UAA Office of University of Advancement