Sunday, April 11, 2021

Full Steam Ahead to the CCPS STEAM Conference


Families head to the many hands-on activities under the white tents. Photos by Jory Westberry

Families head to the many hands-on activities under the white tents. Photos by Jory Westberry

Lucky Seven! Seventh year, that is, of the science conference that Collier County Public Schools (CCPS) offers for all the students, parents and teachers of Collier County. This STEAM Conference was bigger, better and had more participants than any previous– about 1,600 was the count.

For several years the acronym was STEM until it was changed to STEAM. STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. The A was added to STEM to include Art and creative endeavors.

I’ve attended almost all of them and can vouch for the quality and variety of the sessions, created to expose their audience to new technologies and try their hands at science activities. This year was more spectacular than ever!



After a rousing introduction by Superintendent, Dr. Kamala Patton, featured speaker, Mr. Ravi Huthessing, spoke about stretching oneself to optimize opportunities and challenges in your life. He should know. He’s a former guitarist with the Grammy nominee band, Hansen; he’s an aviator; invented a folding guitar; is a prolific writer and now works for the U.S. State Department as a cultural diplomat. Now that’s S-T-R-E-T-C-H-I-N-G! By the way, he is the nephew of Indira Gandhi and the cousin of Rajiv Gandhi, India’s youngest Prime Minister. No, I am not kidding and he was in Naples, Florida? WOW!

Students learned how to take a pulse.

Students learned how to take a pulse.

The Science Coordinators from CCPS (Mary, Ryan and Ted) astounded the standing-room only audience by creating a Polar Vortex. A what? They made giant 10-foot “smoke rings,” not with smoke, but with a fog machine, and sent them flying above the audience. You could actually feel the force of the wind as they flew by and knocked Styrofoam cups off peoples’ heads! Hilarious!

For the Frozen Explosion, hundreds of ping pong balls exploded in all directions to the absolute DE-LIGHT of the children and children at heart who were attending. I’m not telling you what they used to create the “pong force,” you’ll have to think about it! 😉 And wonder who picked up the hundreds of balls all over the auditorium! (It was worth it!)

The Polar Vortex sends “smoke” rings made from a fog machine into the audience.

The Polar Vortex sends “smoke” rings made from a fog machine into the audience.

This year’s format made a change from offering sessions in classroom settings to a more

“hands-on” approach to learning. Called the STEAM Village, there were over 50 (yes, really!) interactive activities scattered around the Golden Gate High



School campus from the courtyard to the cafeteria and gymnasium, which were amazing.

There was an Art Walk that featured many types of art from photography to ceramics. It’s great to see how technology and art merge together, in this exhibit and others like “Connect with Kinetic Art” (with Yolanda Sohn) about how movement causes images to morph from one to another. Cool, eh? How about “Design the Perfect Beast” (with Pamela Pollard- Morgan) about being a bio-engineer to apply the engineering process to the creation of a terrifying threat to the Everglades. No kidding! Speaking of dolphins, how would you like the opportunity to build a prosthetic tail for Winter the Dolphin in “Making Winter’s Tail” (with Sherry Ashley)? (Note: We always talk about the dolphins that play around Marco Island!)

Other opportunities included building a harmonica, a kite, programming and piloting an electronically exposed car, listening to a heartbeat or feeling a pulse, learning to fly a flight simulator, building a cell phone, learning about fingerprints, programming robots, making ice cream, designing a sailboat, and trying your hand at 3D CAD modeling. I’m not sure what that last one is, but it sounds interesting; I just ran out of time to go see it.

Another highlight was the exhibition of Science Fair Projects and the Regional Science and Engineering Fair Awards Ceremony. You would NOT believe the level of experiments and ideas that made it to the finals. They seemed more like college level projects, they were so professional and impressive.

As you check out the photos in this column, think about what an educational and fun experience it was to spend 9 AM – 1 PM filling your head with possibilities. This would have been your Lucky Day if you attended, but there’s always next year, AND it’s right up Collier Boulevard, just past the entrance to the Interstate; a learning experience for the entire family. Hope to see you there for the “Lucky Eight” 2018-2019 STEAM Conference!

Jory Westberry has been a dedicated educator for over 40 years, the last 14 as Principal of Tommie Barfield Elementary, where she left her heart. Life is rich with things to learn, ponder and enjoy so let’s get on with the journey together!

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